Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti sat down with Ryan Mink at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando to talk about the Ravens' offseason and more. Here's a full transcript of their interview:
What's your opinion of the offseason free agency moves thus far, specifically adding Steve Smith?
"I think retention is more the word. Getting [Eugene] Monroe and [Dennis] Pitta back, Jacoby [Jones] back, I think that's a coup for us. I think Ozzie assessed the free agent market really well as he always does. Steve Smith is the wild card. That's an interesting addition to our team. Not only will he benefit Joe [Flacco], but I think he'll benefit Gary Kubiak. Gary comes in as a very accomplished guy, but he's walking into a fairly static environment where all our starters are back. To add Steve to the mix, I think that Gary can benefit a lot from having another Pro Bowler that has had success – great success. I think it's going to, in a weird way, add to Gary's credibility because he's going to have one other set of outside eyes that's going to be contributing the developing of our offense."
Will Steve Smith bring an attitude last year's offense was lacking?
"I think that we were a little wounded losing [Anquan Boldin] and losing Dennis. Let's face it. Our line struggled and our running backs struggled. And that's the cart and the horse thing. I think that we took it on the chin. I think it was very humbling for us to produce such paltry numbers as an offense. I think that if we had Eugene Monroe on a five-year deal instead of a 10-game rental, and we had Pitta back, and we make a couple offensive line changes here and there, I think that we'd be better. I think we'd be more confident. But coming off a disappointing offensive performance, I think that adding Steve Smith is really the cherry on the top. I think it will [bring attitude], I think we did miss it, I think Derrick Mason brought something with his attitude. In history, Derrick Mason is the only one that ever yelled at Joe Flacco and grabbed his helmet. [Boldin] brought that same, 'Throw me the damn ball attitude.' I think his stats would prove it. [Boldin] would have one catch for eight yards in the first half, then 140 yards in the second half. He demanded the ball. Steve is that way too. I don't really think that's going to hurt our other wide receivers. I think it's going to let guys like Marlon Brown and even a Torrey Smith to say, 'Yeah, our standard is excellence.' Steve's personal standard has been excellence. I think it will bring a nice attitude to us."
Are more additions needed and what are they?
"Yeah. I think we've gotten to a point in free agency in the past two weeks that at least we've balanced and filled the holes and re-signed the players. Had we lost Pitta or Jacoby or Eugene Monroe, we'd be sitting there either finding someone of lesser talent levels, but being happy that we're filling the holes, or having glaring weaknesses in the draft. As a management team, that's always our decision is to look at our available cap space and figure out how much we can fill in to have depth chart that doesn't make us reach in the draft. Culminating in [Jeremy] Zuttah yesterday, I think we've put ourselves in a position that we can let Eric [DeCosta] and Ozzie [Newsome] do what they do best, and that's have a fair draft – a legitimately fair draft where they take the best player. We can identify wide receiver, we'd like to add a tight end, we'd like to add an offensive lineman, we'd like to add a safety, we'd like a third corner to compete with Chykie [Brown] and Asa [Jackson]. We'd like to add a running back, whether that's free agency or the draft. So there's six positions that with seven picks, with these comp picks that come out – I think we'll get a pair of fours and a pair of fives probably – so that will put us with seven picks in the first five rounds. You lose guys like Arthur Jones that were fifth-round picks. You lose guys like [Dannell] Ellerbe that was undrafted. You end up getting equal or better value four years after they gave you a hell of a lot. I think that we can have a really fair draft now. Don't be surprised as fans if we turn around and take a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker at one and two. Because that's Ozzie's M.O. If they're there and they're highly rated on our board, then we're going to pluck some positions that may not look like needs. It goes back to our very first draft when we needed a running back desperately and Ozzie took a left tackle [Jonathan Ogden] with the fourth pick in the draft. We didn't need him. He worked as a guard, I think, as a rookie. The very first pick he had, he took the best available player and we didn't even have room for us at tackle. So this Hall of Famer played guard for this first year. We're in the position where, if that's what we take then that's what we take, and we'll be happy with it. And fans will know that we got a player that was rated higher than those other positions of need."
Is this a year where you envision trading back from No. 17 since it's a strong, deep class?
"[General Manager] Kevin Colbert from Pittsburgh said that because this is a very deep draft, everybody feels that way, that trading out is not going to be an option, that you're not going to get good value. Everyone wants to accumulate more picks in a deep draft. His feeling was that trading back this year is going to be harder than it ever was. No. To sit at No. 17, since I've been involved with the team, we've been at that level with just [Terrell] Suggs, [Haloti] Ngata and Joe. This is just our fourth time that we've had [a pick] under 20 and we've come across pretty well on those picks. … I think it will be difficult. I think we'll probably find ourselves staying where we are."
What is your take on Flacco's 2013 season and do you have big expectations for a rebound this year with more weapons around him?
"I do. I think Joe deserves the benefit of the doubt. We saw the progression for five years. He has a down year, he throws a lot of picks. But Joe historically didn't throw a lot of picks. He's dealing with Marlon Brown and Pitta is gone and Anquan is gone. He's got Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. With all brand new targets, that's going to happen. I certainly look at last year as an aberration. I expect to see great things from Joe."
What's your take on Ray Rice's arrest and whether he'll definitely be back with the team regardless?
"He'll be back with the team. He'll definitely be back. I don't know of any other player that's ever generated as much goodwill in our building and in our community as Ray in those six years. I think you look at Torrey Smith and say he's exactly the same, he's well on his way to that with his community involvement and positive attitude. It's very disappointing. If Ray was the kind of guy that was susceptible to trouble, then I could sit here and say that* *this is terribly disappointing to me. I think it's selfish for me to inject my own opinion about that, although I am the owner. I know how terribly disappointing it is to Ray and his fiancée, how embarrassing it is for them. I have to have compassion towards him. I've talked to him a couple times and I know that he can't erase this. He can't change what happened in the past. I've been on record of saying my definition of character is repeating offenses. If we're all one strike and you're out, then we're all in trouble. It's how you respond to adversity. Ray has not experienced any. He's just been lauded as the nicest, hardest working, greatest guy on the team and in the community. So we have to support him. I think we'll be rewarded by him maturing and never putting himself in a situation like that again. I certainly see him doing great things for us from a football standpoint; I think he'll do great things in the community and he'll be even more of a mentor to people after you watch him respond to this kind of adversity."
Are you concerned about the team's image with three arrests this offseason?
"You're always concerned about the image, but the fact that they all happened at once, really is embarrassing to us. We have to figure out exactly what is going to happen, whether the league gets involved and whether the courts ever actually get involved in these things. You're going to have some of these mishaps. They are a smudge on the organization. I don't know whether if they were spread out, whether that would make it better or not. We just kind of have to roll with this, it kind of comes with the territory. But these guys have to realize that they're not kids, they're grown men. You've got to find your balance in life to make sure you don't put yourself in these kind of situations; whether it's hanging out with the wrong people or being in the wrong places or drinking too much in public, which I think contributed to one if not maybe all three of those issues. All of our players need to grow up and make sure they don't find themselves in that position. Whether it's the three that got in trouble or the others that didn't, hopefully this is a great learning opportunity for the ones that maybe narrowly avoided this trouble in the past and they'll change their behavior to make sure it doesn't happen to them."
What's your stance on expanding the number of teams that make the playoffs?
"I'm in favor of it. We're working now, the competition committee and the broadcast committee, figuring out exactly how you would place those games. So that's more of the issue. I think it's showing that most owners would be in favor of the additions. It only pushes us from 38 to 44 percent of the teams make the playoffs. In basketball and hockey, it's over 50 percent. Baseball is at 33 percent, but I think they're talking about raising the participation in the playoffs. The fact that we have such a short season and you've seen wild-card teams like us and the Giants and the Packers win a Super Bowl coming from a wild-card spot, that is proof to me that you're not diluting the product by adding two teams that may have won those last three games at 6-7 and get to 9-7. They can make some noise in the playoffs. I'm all for it. I think we can work it into our schedule. And hopefully it prompts us to maybe look at reducing the preseason, which aren't exactly hand-in-hand, but I think we're trending in that vein and I'd like to see that too."
What was your involvement in the hiring of Gary Kubiak?
"You can't ever set the record straight if there's people basically questioning your honesty. My job is to counsel John [Harbaugh] and give him advice. I had no idea Gary Kubiak was even available until John called me and told me that he had talked to Rick Dennison. I think they had a relationship because they were special teams coaches. In the very beginning of this thing, [Gary] was not a candidate because we were under the impression that he was doing the Lovie Smith – sit out a year, relax and maybe get back into it – with the health scare he had. He wasn't a candidate we had considered. Through the course of a conversation John had with Rick Dennison, he was convinced that Gary would at least want to talk to John. I was in Florida and John called me about that development, said that Gary had agreed to fly in the next day, and 24 hours later he was being announced as the coordinator. That can show you my involvement. The same person that reports that I forced [Harbaugh] to fire Cam Cameron decides that I'm the same person that decides that I am in charge of forcing him to hire Gary Kubiak. People can believe what they want to believe, but it kind of goes against everything that I've ever believed in from a tutorial management standpoint that is to give good counsel, give them good advice and let them make decisions. I still haven't talked to Gary. I haven't welcomed him aboard. I guess I will in May when I see him."
Can you talk about the growth you've seen in John Harbaugh?
"The interesting thing about John is that he may be a little bit more sure of himself, but he hasn't replaced anything that has to do with him seeking counsel. So it's one thing to be more comfortable, to be sure, be more determined and be more clear. But he doesn't not talk to Ozzie and I and ask us for advice. That, to me, is the mark of a great leader. You can become more confident and more accomplished and more sure of yourself, but you're still just as interested in your partners' decisions. Bad leaders tend to ask less questions of you, because they're sure they know what they've got. They're now more sure, they're now more confident, they're now more experienced, so they don't need your counsel. To me, that's what says to Baltimore that John's a great leader. He never replaced that inquisitiveness with assuredness."
After not making the playoffs after five years straight, what lessons do you take?
"I don't take any lessons from it to be honest with you. I just think that there's a good chance that we don't take it for granted now. You never know the future. If we had won that game in Cincinnati, we'd be sitting here [thinking], 'We can win the Super Bowl. We're as good a team as we were back then.' Joe's interceptions wouldn't have mattered if we were in the wild-card [game]. We'd be right back to where we were. Joe's interceptions become more prominent because we missed the playoffs. If we had scored or held them to one less touchdown, we're in. I don't think it teaches us anything. It just gives us a sense of renewal. If we had made the playoffs and been one and done, I don't think I'd be any more confident going into this year. I would still feel that we had to make the changes that we made. We were forced into these changes. We don't elect to make them. The salary cap determines that we have certain turnover. And success and failure determines whether we have turnover in the coaching staff."
How much pressure do you apply when things don't go right?
"I have to monitor the pressure they put on themselves. It's the exact opposite of that. I would never put pressure on them if they reacted negative to their own pressure. They're the ones in the game, they're the ones in the arena. I'm just sitting here judging, just like fans do. Unlike a fan, I know how much time and effort that they put into these decisions and how much consensus we get before decisions are made. I just want to see how they respond to pressure and the pressure that comes along with failing, missing the playoffs. I like the way they've responded. Our meetings in Florida were the exact same that they always were. It's amazing if people could have seen the tenor of those meetings from the past three years, from the devastating loss in New England to the afterglow of the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs. I don't know that if you saw a clip of our meetings you would go, 'That's clearly that year or that year.' A month later, after it's over, we just sit and we do what we do every year and the chips fall where they may."