A year ago at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti couldn't walk 10 feet without being congratulated for his team's victory in Super Bowl XLVII about a month and a half earlier.
This year, however, has brought different circumstances for the Ravens' owner. His team finished 8-8 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The offseason has brought some off-the-field turmoil with three Ravens getting arrested in a 22-day span, including star running back Ray Rice, who was charged with simple assault in February after an altercation with his fiancée, Janay Palmer.
In a sitdown interview with The Baltimore Sun at the posh Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes hotel, Bisciotti vowed to stick by Rice as he deals with his legal issues. He also spoke about his role in the hiring of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and the leadership of quarterback Joe Flacco.
How difficult was this past season and how long did it take you to get over it?
"You have to turn the page. It really wasn't [difficult]. I think if you're a competitor, you have to be a good sport, a good loser. We're disappointed but in perspective, coming off of a Super Bowl and not making the playoffs was really a lot easier to deal with. It's just, 'get to work again.' I know in the history books, we failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, but that last week of the season when we failed to make the playoffs wasn't emotionally harder for me than it was losing in the playoffs the four years prior to the Super Bowl run."
How pleased are you with the team's offseason activity so far?
"Very. I think getting Eugene Monroe, No. 1, when we knew that we'd probably loseMichael Oher, that was really scary for me if we were to lose both of them. That one was the one that I just thought that you just end up overpaying in the market if you have to chase tackles. I just think that was a priority for us just because of the supply and demand of that position. And then everything else fell into play with the re-signs."
Are there any positions that you see as priorities to fill?
"If you chase positions of need, I think that's what [general manager Ozzie Newsome] is really adept at doing, getting really good players and really good replacements for some of the kids that we don't get. We still need help at safety. We still haven't identified a replacement for Corey Graham. We need another tight end. You can always use an extra wide receiver, you can always use an extra offensive lineman. We know we need an extra running back. That's four — safety and corner is six. … If those are the six spots that we need to fill — I might have missed one — I'm pretty comfortable that we'll fill five or six of them with our first seven picks. I just don't know what round and that's where best-player-available comes in."
You made it clear several years ago that you wanted the team's bad-boy image to change a little bit. Your guys had done well staying out of trouble, but in a three-week span this offseason, three players were arrested. How concerning are those incidents?
"No off-the-field incidents is our goal. When they came with a flurry, obviously it's disappointing and it's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for our organization and it's embarrassing for our city. We take pride in drafting high-character guys. These are not kids. Sometimes, I think of them as kids because they are my children's age but they are grown men and they need to act accordingly. … I don't think there's a more admired kid that we drafted than Ray Rice. We're embarrassed and we're disappointed but no more than he is. I think what you have to do, when you look at the character of the man, is to see how he handles it and how he handles himself going forward to determine whether this is a bad person doing bad things or a good person that does something bad. I think he and his fiancée are both disappointed in themselves and embarrassed by it. Unfortunately, he's going to live with that for the rest of his life but if I know Ray Rice as well as I think I do, it will work out to be a positive for us and him."
When you heard it was Ray Rice that got arrested, was that especially jarring for you knowing his reputation as a high-character guy who is active in the community?
"It is. Obviously, the more accomplished guys, maybe I get to know them a little bit better. Yeah, least likely to get in trouble, he would have been at the top of my list and that's the sad thing. Ray loved that image, Ray loved being that guy, the way he treats his teammates, the way he embraced Baltimore and how much he gives to the community. I just can't imagine how devastating it is for him personally. They say people have short memories but not in a competitive world like this, not when you have 31 other team's fans on Twitter to remind you of your failings."
You guys have stuck with players dealing with legal issues in the past. Do you see any scenario where Ray Rice is not on the team going forward?
"No, I don't. I think the ones you have to be careful of are the ones that don't integrate themselves into the community and don't integrate themselves into the locker room, the ones that really never create a great presence about themselves on their team, in the building and in the community. Those are the outliers, the ones that you probably have to shed. We understand a lot of these kids come from really under-privileged backgrounds. The ones that are uninterested and unable to shed the quality of people that they may have been raised around, those are the ones that we probably have to weed out and we do, I think. Ray will be here."
How confident are you that Joe Flacco will rebound and his 2013 season will be an aberration?
"I'm 100 percent confident that Joe's going to move forward. None of us saw that coming. I don't think you could have seen Joe's progress over a five-year period, and then wonder, 'Oh, did we see the real Joe?' I think we saw the real Joe for five years. I'm confident that Joe is determined to prove that last year was an aberration."
The latest criticism that Joe Flacco is taking is that he may not be putting enough time in at the team facility. Is that an unfair criticism?
"To be honest with you, it's the first I've heard of it. I'm in Florida. I don't listen to sports radio. Listen, those guys are paid to give opinions and they are put on the air dozens of hours a week. I guess they get tired of saying the same thing. Joe is pretty immune to criticism and it comes with the territory. The more you pay him and the more accomplished he is, the more that he's going be criticized. Joe doesn't have thin skin. .. I have no issue at all with him. It's natural that Joe's personality — I've said it before — will be rewarded. It wins in the long run. You don't have to change who you are because people expect to see a certain leader. Joe's been the same guy since the day that he walked into that building, so if he has a subpar year, then they're going to bring it all up all over again. It doesn't surprise me that it's going on and Joe and John [Harbaugh] and I could give a ."
Some media outlets, this newspaper included, reported that you meddled in the decision to hire Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator. What was your role in his hire and John Harbaugh's decision?
"I am counsel to John and I say that so that you understand that I participate in all major decisions in this organization. What level depends on the subject matter, the urgency of the subject matter, the importance of the subject matter. I still have not talked to Gary. I didn't even know that Gary was even in play until John told me that he was in play."
What do you think Steve Smith will bring to the team?
“You have to start with Derrick Mason and what he brought coming in. What Derrick Mason brought to our team, we got. Everybody knew what we were losing in Anquan [Boldin]. I think you get that back and I think it's good for the wide receiver room, I think it's good for Joe [Flacco], and I think it's good to get a veteran for Kubiak. I look at the assets that Kubiak has, and if I'm Gary, I love the fact that I have another accomplished outsider coming in to help form this offense. He's not constantly saying, ‘You guys only know one way.' The fact that he has Steve there, I think, will benefit Gary, as much as it will benefit Joe.”
Did you realize that the trade of Anquan Boldin last offseason would leave such a big void to fill and do you regret it to this day?
“No because I know exactly what we were able to buy with the money that we didn't spend [on Boldin]. Ozzie had had to walk away from deals in the past and a lot of players have come back to our number. What would have happened if ‘Q' had accepted the $4 million and we didn't get to sign a couple of those defensive players, like [Elvis] Dumervil? I don't know that Q's catches would have been more valuable to us than Dumervil's sacks. We had lost Paul Kruger on the other side, too. IF they hadn't filled that role, they would have said that we didn't address a major weakness and that was that we didn't replace a pass rusher. I knew how admired Q was in Baltimore, as much as he was admired in our locker room and our team. But I don't have a crystal ball to decide whether we would have gone 9-7 and stuck in the playoffs. As anything unfolds, you can say, ‘boy, Q, would have made a difference.' I just don't know what we don't have because of Q, if that would have offset that difference. “