As the Ravens build their draft board and free agency strategy, General Manager Ozzie Newsome made it clear that the last year has impacted the way the team will address players with off-field issues.
The Ravens will specifically shy away from drafting prospects or adding free agents who have any history of committing domestic violence.
"The one area we will definitely take a hard look – and it will be tough for us to bring a player to Baltimore – is someone who has domestic abuse in their background," Newsome said at the season-review press conference Tuesday. "Other than that, we'll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that."
Taking a clear stance against adding players with domestic violence charges could remove a handful of prospects from Baltimore's draft board. Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and Michigan defensive end Frank Clark are two high-profile players who were dismissed from their college teams after accusations of violence against women.
"We will have good information, but just as our boss [Owner Steve Bisciotti] has already said, someone that has domestic abuse in their background, it's going to be tough for them to be considered a Raven," Newsome said.
The NFL landscape has changed considerably in the last 12 months since former Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested on domestic violence charges. The league has implemented a new policy to punish players for domestic violence – the first offense is a six-game suspension, and the second is a lifetime ban – and the Ravens have changed the way they will handle those incidents.
"I think the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL did not really treat domestic violence with a degree of seriousness and severity that the issue deserves," Ravens President Dick Cass said. "To borrow from what Steve [Bisciotti] said last fall, we were treating domestic violence the same way we did a bar fight. And that was a mistake, and that was wrong. And I think the league has recognized that. We've certainly recognized that, and that's an offense that will be treated very differently going forward."
Ravens brass hopes that the legal troubles the team had in 2014 were the exception, not the rule, to player conduct away from the field. The Ravens have always had a process in place that includes scouts getting information on prospects' backgrounds. Over the years, that process has seemingly worked, and the Ravens are optimistic that last year's shortcoming was an abnormality.
President Dick Cass pointed out that in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, the Ravens had three arrests. In 2014, the Ravens had five arrests.
"We are hoping that 2014 was an aberration and that the processes that we have in place will continue to work the way they had the five previous years – much better than they did in 2014," Cass said.
Added Bisciotti: "In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with, and we did. So now it's about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case."
Part of proving that is by altering how they handle sensitive issues in the future, and influencing others to do the same.
Not only have the Ravens and the NFL changed their response to players accused of domestic violence, but the Rice incident raised awareness across the country about the prevalence of the acts and need for prevention.
"It was a very taboo subject in and of itself," Bisciotti said. "We're talking about society. That was the one issue, that was the one closet issue that people, families, never, ever talked about. It was a terrible stain on people, and so because it was downplayed and it was such a taboo subject in society, then I think that it allowed us to downplay it when it came to a public institution like the NFL and the teams.
"It was very rarely given the sense of seriousness that it deserved. What I did say last year was that if this is the seminal moment that turns that into the force, the seriousness that we have to take, then we don't mind being the poster boy for that. We are more sensitive, but I think so is America, and they're going to expect that out of us and every other institution."