Owner Steve Bisciotti, President Dick Cass, General Manager/Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome & Head Coach John Harbaugh
Steve Bisciotti Opening Statement:
"Thanks for coming; I appreciate it. I understand we have a long list [of questions from the media]. As you may or may not know, today is personnel [meeting] day. We've been at it since early [in the morning], and we'll be at it until late. So, I hope we can sufficiently answer most of your questions, satisfactorily for the fans. Again, I appreciate you coming."
In the advertising campaign that you've been running recently, Steve, you mention your bosses [the fans]. So, I will ask you what your bosses have been asking me the last couple of months. A) How upset are you? And B) Will your level of involvement go up in the months to come? (Joe Platania)
(BISCIOTTI) *"Disappointed, yes. Mad, no. Maybe you'd have to ask these guys. That might be a little bit of a myth that my involvement goes up and down with our schedule – with our success and failure. But, I don't have any more questions for these guys than I did after the Super Bowl. We were at a high level, we were trying to maintain it, and now we have disappointed, underperformed. And maybe you should ask them in April whether or not my participation was more. But, we'll be back in Florida next week [for additional meetings], and we actually asked to have a week after this in the personnel meeting. Originally we had it planned for this weekend, but I think John needs a little sleep, and [John's wife] Ingrid needs a little attention. *(laughter) We decided that we'd give it a week. So, we'll be in Florida next Saturday and Sunday. I think my participation is as high as I want it to be in all of my years, and I don't know that it'll be any different."
Do you feel like significant changes are necessary, or do you feel like this is something that could be fixed pretty quickly with a good draft and productive free agency period? (Jeff Zrebiec)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"I really do. The close losses, the tough losses – they piled up. We came out of that Denver game and thought, 'Wow, we may have played one of the best teams in the league and played them tough,' and we expected to turn it around in Week 2, and that just kind of kept going. We had a bunch of heartbreaking losses this year. So no, I don't think overhauling anything … There's only so much you can overhaul a roster. Unfortunately, in this business, there's an overhaul if you want it or not. We got rid of a ton of people after the Super Bowl, and it wasn't because they weren't capable. We had a few retirements in Matt Birk and Ray [Lewis] and to a degree, Ed Reed. And so, I don't really think that a lot has to be done. One thing that I'm proud of [is that] we all view continuity as a strength. Continuity doesn't stem from laziness. It comes from confidence, and I believe in these guys. I have a lot of faith that we'll get it straightened out. I hope we don't have as many injuries, and I hope we have a whole lot more turnovers. Yes, I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be."
Despite the close losses and the injuries, I remember last year you said you not only wanted to make the playoffs but to have a home playoff game. And now a year later, the Bengals and Steelers are back in the playoffs, and you're not, and you guys have lost five-straight to the Bengals. Are you concerned that the talent level between your team and the Bengals and Steelers is widening? (Cliff Brown)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"It's a fair question. They were asking that in Pittsburgh when they went 8-8 two years in a row, and [the critics] said the same things – their drafts weren't top-notch, and they had too many older players. That kind of goes across the league. Yes, I'm concerned about it, but when I look at their rosters, I don't really think that there's a huge talent difference. I think that Cincinnati is probably being touted as the class in our division. If we get all of our players back, I think we'll close that gap. If we have a good draft, if we do well in free agency, we can compete with them. But, that's a stain – Cincinnati beating us as frequently as they have recently."
Regarding QB Joe Flacco's salary cap number, I'm sure you're aware that it goes up to $28.5 million. When do you expect to start talking to his agent, Joe Linta, and is there any level of concern that an agreement can't be done to lower it? (Jamison Hensley)
*(NEWSOME) *"First, as Steve [Bisciotti] stated, we'll be meeting down in Jupiter [Fla.] next weekend, and at that point, [senior vice president of football administration] Pat [Moriarty], [assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta], myself, [head coach] John [Harbaugh], [president] Dick [Cass] and Steve will talk about Joe and the contract. Once we do that, then we will put together a plan. But hopefully, if we are strategic enough, we can possibly put together a football team and not necessarily have to re-do Joe's contract. That has to be an option that we will look at, but we will sit down and talk about it. Then, at that point, there could be some conversation between Joe Linta and Pat."
Ozzie, the team had the top pass defense the second half of the year. When you look at the secondary, do you think many changes have to be made in that area, or can you keep it pretty much the same? (Ryan Mink)
(NEWSOME) "I think the biggest move is 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] to safety. The way the game is going, to have someone that has some range – has some really good ball skills – back in the back end is very [much] needed. We have Shareece [Wright] that's up for contract. That's something that we'll look at going forward. I think [cornerbacks coach] Matt [Weiss] and [secondary coach] Chris [Hewitt] did a really good job of developing the guys in the secondary. John spent a year as a secondary coach with the Eagles, and I think he has input, as well as [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees], who was a secondary coach. It's trending up. Would we like to add some more pieces if they're available to us? We will definitely add them to it as we move forward."
For Ozzie and John, would you consider left tackle, maybe, the most important position you have to look at in the offseason? What did you learn over the last quarter of the season with G/T Kelechi Osemele there at left tackle? Do you feel like you can keep him, or has he priced himself out of being able to come back? (Brent Harris)
(NEWSOME) "Left tackle is important to protect the blindside of the quarterback. When [Kelechi Osemele] agreed to move to left tackle, we thought it was a good thing for us to get a chance to watch him over the course of four games, and then also improve his value to the National Football League. We still have Eugene Monroe. When he was healthy, he played really well for us. We have some options. As it was noted, I had a really good conversation with 'K.O.' [Kelechi Osemele] when the move was made. But that conversation was no different than [conversations] I've had with [Marshal] Yanda and Jimmy [Smith], or with [Pernell] McPhee and Torrey [Smith] and [Paul] Kruger. We will have a chance to look at that. We have Eugene Monroe, who's under contract. We still have James Hurst. The thing that I really enjoy about John's coaching staff is you have a coach in [offensive line coach] Juan Castillo who does a phenomenal job of developing young players. That's what you have to have to be competitive year-in and year-out in this league."
John, I know the personnel meetings are still going on, but have there been any changes in the coaching staff thus far, to the coordinators, at all? (Jon Meoli)
*(HARBAUGH) *"We lost Ted Monachino; I don't know if you saw that yesterday. We agreed to allow him to go be the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. That is a great opportunity for him. It speaks to the quality of the guys that we have. But, [there will be] no changes to the coaching staff. Certainly, [there will be] changes in how we do things and how we approach things and schemes and things like that. We're going to work on that already. But the same guys will be in place, and I'm excited to work with our guys."
John, just because there has been a lot of talk about Dean Pees, why do you think he's the best man for the job now and moving forward to remain as defensive coordinator? (Luke Jones)
*(HARBAUGH) *"I don't know about the talk; I don't really listen to too much of it or read it. But I know what kind of coach Dean Pees is. I look at the season and the improvements that we made – especially in the back end – throughout the course of the season, and that's what you look for. You're going to face struggles and trials, and things don't always play out the way you want them to. We played pretty [well] in Denver, then we didn't play well at all in Oakland. We were up and down and inconsistent throughout the first eight games of the season for sure. And we went to battle and went to work to correct those things and found a way to correct most of them throughout the course of the season. We still have plenty of work to do, but I trust Dean. I know he is a very good coach. All those guys – I know they are good coaches. [When] you work side by side with a bunch of guys through a season like this, you find out what they are made of. And I like our guys."
Ozzie, on draft day I know you always take the best available player, but in a perfect world, what position would that best available player be at No. 6 this year? (Gerry Sandusky)
*(NEWSOME) *"In a perfect world?"
(BISCIOTTI) *"Tackle, safety, corner, pass rusher." *(laughter)
(NEWSOME) *"Pass rusher, yes – one of those four. Thanks, Steve!" *(laughter)
Ozzie, we didn't hear much or see much from OLB Terrell Suggs after his injury, which, of course, he's rehabbing on his own. We understand that. But, is that something you would like to have more communication with him? Are there conversations going on with him as far as his health, or even a cap situation for next season? (Morgan Adsit)
*(NEWSOME) *"First of all, I had numerous conversations with 'Sizz' while he was not necessarily in the building. And he has been in the building. I think he had his reasons for not being here – both personal and some other reasons – why he chose not to be in the building. The focal point is on the guys, as he would say, on the field and not necessarily on him as a guy that is rehabbing. He's been rehabbing. I think he gets out of his boot [soon]. In my last conversation with him, his answer to me was, 'I don't want to leave the game the way I left it out in Denver.' So, I think he is using that as motivation. He's had that injury before, so he knows what it takes to get back. I'm just looking forward to him getting back in here when he does, being involved in the OTAs, going through training camp and just seeing where he is."
Ozzie, can you talk about your cap situation? Did it handicap you last offseason? And what about the upcoming season; will you be fairly active? One other thing, WR Breshad Perriman, did you guys know about that knee injury with him coming out of college? Or was that something that just happened the first day out here? (Mike Preston)
*(NEWSOME) *"I'll go with the second part first: I saw when the injury happened. [Perriman] made an incredible catch on the right sideline, and he went to the ground and the knee hit first. I was excited [and thought]: 'He's made another great play down the field; that's what we needed for him to do.' From that point on – you see a guy go to the ground, you really don't think anything happened, but I noticed it took some time for him to get back up. So, I saw the injury. I saw how it happened. I was in a conversation with our trainer and with Dr. [James] Andrews yesterday, and they expect him to be fully recovered and ready to start this offseason. Hopefully, he can pick up from where he was that first day of training camp. I really had a smile on my face that first day. I guess he lasted for three-quarters of the day. But I had seen a lot of him during the OTAs.
"The first part of [the question] is our cap situation. We had dead money with Ray [Rice] last year. There's no doubt. I don't know what the situation is going to be with [Dennis] Pitta. That means there could be some more dead money. But we took the opportunity to sign three players during the season, or since the draft. We signed Jimmy [Smith], we signed Marshal [Yanda], and we signed Sam Koch. And when you sign players like that, that affects your cap going forward. I don't think we'll be as busy as some teams are in March. We never have [been]. But when there is a player we think can come in and improve our football team and help us, then we will have the cap room capable of being able to get that player signed."
With Perriman, did you know if he had any knee injuries before you drafted him? Or was that something that just happened? (Mike Preston)
*(NEWSOME) *"No, no, it just happened that day when he fell on it."
Ozzie, the way you look at this off season, whether it is free agency or the draft, how important is it – or is it more important – to add playmakers on either side of the ball? (Garrett Downing)
*(NEWSOME) *"From years of being involved in the game, when you lose close games, sometimes a real good player can be the difference. Again, John and his staff do an unbelievable job of getting our players in position to make plays. But there are games … I don't have to sit here and say that when the ball was thrown to A.J. Green he was going to make the catch. A. J. Green is a great player. So, we need to augment our team, but John and his staff do a very good job of developing players. And we depend on that. I talked about what Juan [Castillo, offensive line coach] does. You need to have some players that when the game is on the line, they have the ability to make a play. We will be trying to add some of that to our team, but a lot of that can be done through development."
Steve, injuries were a big headline for your team this year. I'm wondering from an ownership perspective, when you have that many employees who are highly paid but unable to play, what is your level of concern or frustration given that is the inherent nature of this sport? And there is no guarantee it won't happen again next year... (Mark Viviano)
(BISCIOTTI) "There's no guarantee. I guess my job is to support John when those best-laid plans go awry. Obviously, we would have been a better team if we didn't have significant injuries. So, I think I was a good owner, a supportive owner, when this season started going south. I saw the effort; the effort didn't change. The commitment from the staff didn't change. If anybody was told that Kamar Aiken would have 75 catches this year, what would you have said? That somebody's going to be hurt. Because Kamar Aiken doesn't catch 75 balls with [Breshad] Perriman and Steve Smith [Sr.] starting. That's just the role of the dice. That's exactly what we are in for. That's why it is so frustrating being an owner, because once the season starts, I really don't have much involvement. I've said this before: I love the offseason. I love building it, I love strategizing with the cap and talking these things through with these guys. But I'm powerless, really, once the season gets going to add much but support."
For Ozzie and Steve, when you look at the 2005 and 2007 teams, they are very similar in how the seasons went and with the injuries – and then dramatic successes the following year. Do you see similarities, either in ingredients or roster breakdown, with this and what could potentially happen next year? (Brett Hollander)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"No, because we have a quarterback – we have a franchise quarterback now. And we didn't have that. We went into this when John was hired, and we had the lowest draft pick that we had had, again, in years. And here we are again. But the last time we had a single-digit, Top 10 draft pick, we also had a need at quarterback, and we got Joe [Flacco]. I'm pretty comfortable that Joe in Year Nine will be as good or better – even coming off of injury – than Joe was in Year One. I think our ability to bounce [back] from that is a lot more secure, I guess."
This is a question for Ozzie and John: When you look at the pass rush, that was a real strength last year. You lost OLB Pernell McPhee in the offseason, and you lost OLB [Terrell] Suggs in the first game of the year. When you look at it going forward, do you feel like you have the talent on hand to get back to where it was last season, or is that an area where you will definitely be looking to add somebody? (Childs Walker)
*(HARBAUGH) *"We're definitely looking to add somebody – not just there, but in a lot of other areas, too. I don't want to pick it out and say that's just the one spot, but pass rush is really important. You lose Terrell Suggs, you lose Pernell McPhee, you try to replace them, move guys into those spots and you work with them. Elvis Dumervil, I'll tell you what, he was bringing it, week-in and week-out. But he was getting a lot of attention, too. That made it a little bit tougher for him. We tried to blitz more early, played more man coverage, were exposed at times. [We] stopped blitzing toward the end of the year and played more zone coverage – didn't give up as many big plays – but still managed to find a way to get pressure. A lot of times it was coverage pressure, but it was also scheme pressure. That's behind us now. We want to add good players at every spot. And pass rushers, I would say, would really help us. We're all determined to get that done."
Ozzie, do you anticipate using the franchise tag on K Justin Tucker? Is re-signing him to a long-term deal one of the top priorities this spring? (Bo Smolka)
*(NEWSOME) *"Yes, we would like to have Justin continue to be a part of our football team. We will go to work on trying to get a contract done. We do know what the franchise number is for a kicker, if it gets to that. But, we will go to work on that, and we want Justin to be a part of our team."
John, with 42 more penalties than opponents, for I think 405 more yards … I know each penalty is its own individual thing, but is there an overall trend now, a week out of it, where you look back and say, 'We didn't coach that right or take the coaching the right way?' Is there anything to learn from that going forward for next year? (Pete Gilbert)
*(HARBAUGH) *"Not generally. No, there really isn't. I'd like to sit up here and say there is something to learn from it generally, but there really isn't. We'll look at each individual penalty, like I always say. I'd like to see more [penalties] called on our opponents, obviously. Whatever we have to do to get that done, we'll work to get that done. I've looked at it really hard and really close. I'd like to say, 'Yeah, we can fix this or fix that.' The ones that we have to fix are the ones that are foolish penalties. We had more pre-snap penalties on offense at the end, when the quarterbacks changed out. Those jumped up dramatically on us a little bit. We had some foolish penalties on defense. You line up in the neutral zone, those kinds of things. Those are things that you're not going to drill for. That's just being a little bit more aware and understanding the situations. So, again, every penalty kind of stands on its own. I don't draw an over-arching conclusion from that."
John, this is also for you: Where do you know that WR Steve Smith Sr. is in regards to his recovery and do you expect him to be back for the start of training camp? (Sean Grogan)
*(HARBAUGH) *"I expect him to be back for training camp. That's what I've been told. He's out of his boot; I saw him walking around in tennis shoes yesterday when he was in the building. He seemed in good spirits, but he was being very careful not to stumble or anything like that. I just know he's very determined to get back. It's just going to depend on good fortune, in terms of healing, but also just how hard he works and how well he takes care of it."
John and Ozzie, this one's actually for you: On a positive note, I know you guys talked about how important it was to hit on this past draft class. Looking back on it, what are some of the positives from guys like OLB Za'Darius Smith or DT Carl Davis – guys from the  draft class? (Turron Davenport)
*(NEWSOME) *"I just have to think of who all was in the draft class. We have Maxx [Williams]; I think we saw that he's going to be a solid player for us. Carl Davis has a high ceiling that we think he will be able to get to. You talk about Za'Darius, you saw what [Javorius] 'Buck' [Allen] did. We still hold a lot of promise for Tray [Walker], and Nick Boyle played very good for us. And then Darren Waller, who is one of our better special teamers, we lost. We lost [Robert] 'Snacks' [Myers] to the Broncos – well, we lost him twice – we lost him to the Colts and then we lost him again to the Broncos in the last week of the season, and it'll be interesting to see how he develops if he remains a Bronco."
This is probably for John and Ozzie: When I get ready to do a game, I'm always looking at where a team ranks in yardage given up versus where they rank in points given up. It seems like the common denominator is always turnovers. Steve mentioned it earlier when he said we want to have more turnovers – I'm assuming he's talking about on defense. When you look at that, there were 14 this year; that's a franchise record low. Ozzie and John, is it just not having playmakers? Is it not having good enough pass rush? Obviously, it's not an easy answer and it may be a little bit of both, but how do you analyze that and how do you fix it? (Stan White)
*(HARBAUGH) *"It goes hand-in-hand. The things you're talking about are creating plays. When you force teams into situations where they're a little more desperate to make a play, they get a little more careless with the ball. A lot of times that goes with having a lead. So, when you force teams into passing situations and you have pass rushers, you force quarterbacks to make plays, you get a few more sacks, fumbles, you get a few more interceptions. But also, [you get] the ability to do that. Making plays in the back end, making plays on the ball, that's what players do, that's what you bring them in here to do. It goes hand-in-hand, and it's a team-effort kind of a thing, getting plays on defense. Your offense is responsible for that, too. The more points you score, the more turnovers you're going to create on defense. The more turnovers you create on defense, the more points you're going to score. To me, it's a team effort all the way across the board. We become a better football team, we'll create more turnovers. We create more turnovers, we'll win more games and everybody will see us as a better football team. It all fits together."
For Steve: I was wondering about the root of the philosophy of continuity that you talked about before. You've experienced losing seasons before. You really only stepped in and made a major change one time. I'm wondering, is that a business principle that you brought to football, or is it something that you've seen work in football? (John Eisenberg)
(BISCIOTTI) "Thanks, both. Yes, that's exactly right – both. I think that my history with the Allegis Group will show that. The people that are running the company 30 years later are kids that I hired right out of college back in the 1980s. I didn't have much of an appetite for my competitors' people when they came knocking. I didn't want their bad habits, so I didn't want their experience. I always considered their bad habits more a detriment than their assets, because of experience. I was fortunate 16 years ago when I came in here and had this group of people that are sitting in the back, who have been here forever. Art Modell was a big proponent of continuity. I was fortunate to inherit guys like Ozzie, and all through the organization from equipment managers to trainers and everything else. It's absolutely a sound business philosophy. If you go through the league, the winning teams are the ones who have the least turnover in their front office and their coaching staff. It's stark. You just don't turn things over. You guys would be getting a whole lot more juice if you were down in Tampa. You're missing their press conference; they're doing one right now. You would have more to write about. I'm proud of these guys, and I like John as much as I did when we hired him eight years ago. You can't just turn things over based on your record or you'll never [succeed]. I think that just sends you down. You might have a blip up, but we want the blip down to be the abnormality in our growth and our development as an organization, and this is one of those times. If you look through the league, the teams that have won since John came in here – Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Packers, Patriots, Seahawks – they have the same people running the show. The other teams who aren't getting to the top are the ones that have been through two, three and four coaches and one, two and three different GMs in just this last eight years. So yes, it's something that, as long as we're good at picking people and we're then good at working well together, then yes, continuity, I think, is a huge part of the recipe for success."
Steve, being a Colts fan and growing up a Colts fan, seeing relocation – three teams this year playing these bizarre lame-duck kind of status – one of them is going to have to go home, maybe two. You're now involved in that part of it. I guess the owners are going to have a vote. You're going to vote to move a franchise, or be a small part of that. Just some thoughts on that and the responsibility of that? (Nestor Aparicio)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"It's a huge responsibility. I also am very, very close to getting fined by the league if I talk about it before the vote. *(laughter) *Thanks, a lot. I really can't say much, but you're right. I feel for the fans of whoever loses a team. But, I will say – I can't get fined for this – *(laughter) *history has shown that the cities that don't stay competitive from a stadium standpoint lose their teams. History also shows, in places like Baltimore and Cleveland and St. Louis, when you do lose your teams, then you find the money to build a new stadium. I understand that people, other than football fans, don't prioritize creating a great place, but you see that with convention centers. Baltimore is a prime example. We needed a convention center, we needed a convention center, and then we get a convention center, and then they're saying now it's not big enough. We need more, we need more. We need a bigger convention center to fill the hotels and then you need more hotels. It is a bit of an arms race, and I do feel bad for the cities, but I wish that they would stay in sync with their desire. More teams build stadiums to get back a team than build them for their city to keep the team. All three of those cities are vying to go to a city that will make them more financially competitive, and unfortunately, the better the stadium, the more financially competitive you are in this business. I lived it for 12 years without a team and I feel bad for the other cities that are going to have to experience that."
Ozzie, every year somebody asks you, "How long are you going to keep doing this?" So, a two-part question: The first part is how long are you going to keep doing this? And No. 2, does a season like this past season make you burn even more to go forward? (Peter Schmuck)
(NEWSOME) "Do I have a job tomorrow? (looks to Steve Bisciotti) *(laughter) *OK. I still enjoy the aspects, every aspect, of my job – the interaction with the players, the relationship that I have with these three men here, my staff and the coaches. I still enjoy it, and I have no problem getting up [and] coming to work every day. The second part of the question is: Does a season like that [make me want to stop]? No, it motivates me more. If and when I do decide to leave this organization – whether it's by my decision or Steve's – I want this organization to be as healthy as it has ever been when I decide to step away."
Steve, just like Ozzie gets that question every year, you guys are always getting questions about assistant general manager Eric DeCosta every year, saying there's talk that teams want to talk to him – interview him – about GM openings. Where is his status? Is he committed to you going forward for this coming season and beyond? (Jeff Zrebiec)
(BISCIOTTI) "It certainly appears that way. If it wasn't for his relationship with Ozzie, he wouldn't still be here. So, I can't tell you … He knows that I have never changed my mind as far as … I have the best of both worlds. I have two GMs, and everybody in the league knows that. Every year, somebody comes and says, 'Are you itching, yet?' And he doesn't. I usually have to bump his pay. *(laughter) *But realistically, he has too much at stake here in his relationship with Ozzie, and Ozzie's relationship with him is just strong. I commend him for his patience, because I know there are other guys that are GMs that they chose [to leave their original teams]. Because Eric wasn't interested in the last five, six years – and he probably could've had 10 different jobs. But I will say that seven of those 10 [general managers] have been relieved of their duties already. I think that's where Eric would say [he has] his patience. Because we promote continuity, Eric can afford to be patient. He wouldn't be patient if we were turning people over all the time. If he wasn't patient, I would've gotten rid of Ozzie seven years ago and hired Eric, and Eric would've been out four years ago, and I would've had somebody else sitting up here. It's a testament to him. He has family in this area. I'm very fortunate that he has family in this area. I think he's as patient as can be. I think that if you watched him run our draft, you'd know why he's content to be an assistant GM. At this stage, I've watched Ozzie grow to depend on Eric more and more every year. I don't see either of them going anywhere for many years."
Ozzie – as Steve alluded to – you haven't picked in the draft this high in quite a long time. Is there more pressure picking this high? And at this point, could you name the Top 6 players if you had to? (Jamison Hensley)
(NEWSOME) "I think the toughest part of picking this high is [you] have to suffer through the season that we just suffered through. That's the toughest part. As I said to the guys at lunch – and John and I both have joked and Eric and [director of college scouting] Joe [Hortiz] – a lot of times when we're looking at players, and we're picking from 20 to 32 – which we've been picking – and we just say, 'There's no way that player is going to have a chance to make it down to us.' That's not the case this year. We'll be prepared, whether we pick at six, move up, move back – I don't know. We have a draft luncheon that will come up [where] you all can ask those questions. But it's tough going through a season to earn that spot. It really is. I don't like having to sit through 11 losses just to get a chance to pick the fifth or sixth best player in the draft."
Steve, this is not an attempt to get you fined, but the subject that begs your perspective: From the owner's box during a game – and as a partner in this league – [what is] your view of the level of officiating in this league? Because just based on reading John's lips on Sundays, it's not very good. (Mark Viviano)
(HARBAUGH) "Good thing you don't have to read his lips." (laughter)
(BISCIOTTI) "That would not be hard. (laughter) I don't think I can get fined for anything in the offseason, because I'm not going to call out any single ref. I do not think that the men in those positions are any worse at their job than they were 10 years ago. I honestly believe that our rulebook has gotten too thick. When the head of officiating is convening with Hall of Fame wide receivers to try and define, 'What is a catch?' the rulebook is too big. But they haven't cut our tax code either no matter how many times people say it's too complex. I think that we do need to simplify some rules, and I think that referees on the field need outside help. I absolutely believe that the fan has an advantage to the referees. How many times have you sat there at a basketball game, and a guy goes down the lane and you scream, 'That wasn't a foul!' And then, of course it's not, because [it is] the Maryland guy that fouls the Duke guy. Your eyes see what they see at first glance [in] one split second. Before you know [it], something is going to happen, and that's what the refs are doing. Something happens, and they have to make a split-second decision about what they saw. And then we get to see it from six different angles in HD, in slow-mo and now 360 [degrees]. How many times do you see a call being challenged, and you and your friends are sitting there just agreeing [about] whether the ball is coming out before the knee and their explanation? I think that we need to grow the function of refereeing a little faster than it has. I think that we are getting behind, and I think it's making these people look incompetent, and I don't think it's a competence issue. I really don't."
Do your fellow owners share in that? Is that a serious subject right now? (Mark Viviano)
(BISCIOTTI) "Whenever it costs them a game. (laughter) When we lose a game, I see 12 things that the refs stink at. When I win a game, I don't remember seeing them that night when I'm celebrating with my family and friends. You don't win by seven [points] and then go, 'Oh my God, those horrible calls they had against us!' You just wipe them out. Yes, I think all of the owners want it to be as close to perfect as it can, and I don't think it's close right now. I think we can get it closer. I think that all of my partners would agree with that."
Steve, you mentioned the fan's perspective. You were a fan long before you were an owner. Are you still able to go through a season as a fan? (Gerry Sandusky)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"Yes, I'm a fan, but when you love these guys it hurts more. It's like saying if I stuck you in a little gym with your 10-year-old and I'm watching the game, you're probably going to get a little more involved in it than I am. I just see a bunch of cute kids running around and you're screaming, 'Hack-a-Shaq!' or whatever. It matters more to you. So no, to that degree, I'm not a fan anymore. I'm a fan on Monday night when I'm watching two other teams play and I'm not emotionally involved in it. But I can assure you that when I'm watching my games, I wanted to beat Cincinnati badly this weekend. I wasn't counting draft picks, I wanted to win. I wanted these guys to go up into their offseason having beaten Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. And I was proud of them when they beat Pittsburgh and I heard it cost us five spots in the draft. You can't root against your team. I want them to win, even if it costs us picks. I'm still that much of a fan, even though I understand some of our fans maybe were rooting for a different outcome in those last few games when they know that we can't make the playoffs. But now that I'm sitting here, I don't mind having the sixth pick. Now that I'm sitting here, I don't care that they screwed up that Jacksonville game. I was furious when they called that [penalty] on Will Hill III in the end zone in Oakland. It was a terrible call. Now, that doesn't bother me, because they would have pushed us to 7-9, and we'd be picking [at] 16. But [Ozzie Newsome] would have found another C.J. Mosley, so things would work out. Yes, a fan, but in a completely different way. I'm still an NFL fan though."
John, offensively this was the franchise-low in rush attempts and I think it was the most passes thrown in a season. Do you guys feel like you kind of lost the identity you want to have? And if so, what were the conversations with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman like to try to correct that? (Jon Meoli)
*(HARBAUGH) *"Yes, I feel like we need to run the ball more, but we need to run the ball better. So, those two things go hand-in-hand. Those are the conversations that we've had, not only the last few days, but through the course of the season. We're always fighting to find ways to win football games, and running the football is – like you said – it's our identity. So, to the extent that we didn't run the ball well, yes, we lost our identity a little bit and we have to be able to do that. We're going to find our way back that way, and we're going to work on that right now. Part of that is scheme, part of that is how many times we call it and when we call it. There's play-action that goes with it [and] passes behind runs that keep the linebackers off your run game – all of those things that we need to build into our run game to be as good as we can be. I do believe our offensive line is a type of offensive line that can run the football. There's really no reason for us not to be effective running the football with all of the guys we put out there, including the young guys that played at the end of the year. Those guys, they did a great job. So, that's on us as coaches. We have to scheme it, stay with it and find ways to do it across the board schematically and do a better job of it."
Dick, can you tell us at all about ticket prices, something fans always want to know about for next season and whether there will be an increase or not? And for Steve, there are a lot of reports out of Philadelphia about their interest in John Harbaugh. Can you comment on whether Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie ever contacted you about acquiring John? (Steve Davis)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"No, they never did. And they typically would call [Ozzie Newsome]. That typically goes from GM to GM."
(Reporter: Ozzie, did they call?)
*(NEWSOME) *"No, they did not call."
*(DICK CASS) *"And there will be no ticket price increase."
For Steve, you talked a lot about continuity. From 2008 through outside the last couple years, you were consistently winning. I want to know your thoughts: What's different from say 2007 to this year, because clearly you look at it differently than you were looking at it in 2007 when it was very inconsistent. What is the biggest difference – outside of a franchise QB, because you didn't have one in 2007 – what is the biggest difference for you as an owner? (Brent Harris)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"I don't know that I can go back to 2007 to make a good comparison, but when I assess this team and I talk with people that I know, the one thing that I think I underestimated was when [Terrell] Suggs went down in Week 1. Now, at the end of the year, I think I didn't come close to understanding the impact. For many, many years, we said that Ray Lewis made people 10 percent better just by playing with him. And what we didn't appreciate in Suggs was the reason why [Elvis] Dumervil went from 17 sacks down to six. Dumervil didn't become a bad player, and our linebackers were exposed in coverage because of our lack of pressure, and Za'Darius Smith didn't get to fill in Pernell's [McPhee] role that we had drafted him for, because all of a sudden he's got to line up on the edge. That's really not what we were thinking when we drafted him. We thought we had a good replacement – and we got a good replacement – but immediately, we didn't get to have that third rusher. As John said, then you start to create pressure, you start blitzing linebackers and then you get exposed in the underneath routes and they take advantage of that and it makes our linebackers look bad. Then the corners and the safeties have to hold on a second longer, and they get exposed. It was the biggest domino effect of losing one guy. If anybody in this league said, 'If we lost Joe Flacco in Week One, where would we be?' We'd say, 'Not good.' If you had said, 'What one guy can't you afford to lose on defense?' I think most of you would have said Suggs. I don't know that, but if you didn't, I think you can look back and say we could have lost anybody on that defense in Week 1 other than Suggs, and it wouldn't have had the kind of trickle-down effect that it had on our whole defense. I just think you have to appreciate that. That was 29 sacks that we got between the two of them [Suggs and Dumervil in 2014] that led the league last year, and then we got none from Suggs and six from Dumervil [in 2015]. So, I think the domino [effect] was greater than I could have anticipated. We need to develop guys like Za'Darius, we need to draft more of them, and we need to get Suggs back healthy. And I think Dumervil has still got a year or two left, but we certainly didn't expect to run him as many snaps, and he wore down. That's not what we expected Dumervil to do this year – was have to go and play 800 snaps or whatever it was. That's kind of the big difference. But I think I have a true appreciation of what pressure means, and so that's what I think we need to do. I think we need to focus on our free agency and our draft, and I think we have to have multiple pass rushers in order to let everybody else be effective."
Ozzie, fans always want to know about wide receiver. Given that WR Steve Smith Sr. is returning and the depth that you saw over the course of the season, do you still feel like the team needs to add another free agent wide receiver or draft one in the first three-to-four rounds? (Ryan Mink)
*(NEWSOME) *"Yes, I think we do. And if possible, two, whether it's by the draft and/or free agency. I think we need to continue to improve the depth of our receivers on this roster."