Tag Archive | "Steve Bisciotti"

Building offense around Flacco only offseason priority that matters

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Building offense around Flacco only offseason priority that matters

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The uncertain future of linebacker Terrell Suggs and the decision to retain assistant Juan Castillo were topics that understandably garnered the most attention at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference on Wednesday.

But it was something owner Steve Bisciotti said that laid out the top priority of the offseason as Baltimore tries to bounce back from missing the postseason for the first time in the John Harbaugh era. In fact, it’s the only objective that really matters if the Ravens hope to climb to the heights they reached 11 months ago anytime soon.

Bisciotti has always acknowledged his opinions on football-related matters shouldn’t — and usually don’t — hold as much weight as those of general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh, but that hasn’t stopped the 53-year-old owner from publicly calling for more accountability from his employees in the past as former head coach Brian Billick and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron learned years ago. That’s what made his answer over how concerned he was about the underwhelming play of quarterback Joe Flacco so telling as it spelled out what the Ravens must do this winter.

There was no over-the-top comment about needing more of a return on the $120.6 million contract he forked over to the 28-year-old quarterback last winter, even though the Ravens will certainly expect a much better Flacco in 2014. Yes, Flacco must improve, but so must Newsome, Harbaugh, Castillo, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell (if he does indeed return), Ray Rice, the offensive line, and everyone else with a stake in the Baltimore offense next season and beyond.

“When you look at these guys who have been coaching in the league and have had success in the past and you look at our players that have had success in the past, if we could have fixed it, we would have,” Bisciotti said. “I certainly expected more in the second half of the season. As interrelated as the running game is to the play-action pass and the execution of the offensive line, trying to divide up the blame is something I’m really not much more qualified than you guys are to do. But, when you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes.

“I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited. And, if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe [Rice and Pierce] could have achieved more with their physical limitations. And, if that had worked a little better, then I think Joe would have performed a little better. All the things, the numbers that are so striking to me to find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that — had we not had a [good] history in the last five years – then I would probably demand wholesale changes. But I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and decide you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and [you] let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year, add some people to the team in the draft and free agency.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to look at the offense with the same fine-tooth comb that we looked at the defense last year. I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in personnel and how we approach that. I’m pretty proud of the defense for being able to retool on the fly, and I’ve got the same amount of confidence with these guys in building the offense.”

The final few sentences of his drawn-out answer said everything you need to know. Yes, the Ravens must address Suggs’ $12.4 million cap number, find a free safety, and tinker with various parts of their defense and special teams, but building a better supporting cast around Flacco is paramount. Last offseason saw Newsome focus solely on revamping a below-average defense while allowing the offense to suffer as a result, a perplexing strategy considering the Ravens had just won a Super Bowl with their offense doing the heavy lifting.

Fixing the offense won’t be easy as the dynamic pass-catcher the Ravens covet doesn’t just grow on trees and the organization doesn’t exactly have a stellar history of developing — or even finding — many quality wide receivers in their 18-year history. Adding bulk on the interior line is a necessity, but potentially finding three quality starters — if the Ravens are unable to re-sign Eugene Monroe to remain with incumbents Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele — will be a daunting task. Flacco’s $14.8 million cap figure in 2014 will indeed be an obstacle — just like the large numbers currently held by Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Rice, and Yanda — as Newsome tries to use limited resources to infuse the offensive side of the ball with more talent.

But the Ravens must build a better supporting cast around their quarterback, whether you think Flacco is a potential Rolls-Royce or only a Mustang in the hierarchy of current NFL quarterbacks. He’s proven he has the ability to take the franchise all the way to the top, but he can’t do it alone as last season so painfully showed. A record-setting contract understandably brought high expectations, but it didn’t suddenly change his ability or who he is as a quarterback.

Making some difficult decisions such as parting ways with Suggs and sacrificing some ability defensively may be necessary to create sufficient cap space in order to add more dynamic offensive pieces. The Ravens have no choice but to take giant leaps forward offensively in the increasingly offensive-minded NFL.

Flacco did not have a good year in 2013, and he must own his share of the blame just like anyone else involved. But the Ravens didn’t set him up to have a strong season following an offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and the retirement of veteran center Matt Birk without adequate replacements behind them. That coupled with unforeseen injuries to the likes of Dennis Pitta, Rice, and Osemele left too much to overcome.

From the Suggs financial decision to improving the offensive line and running game, nearly all offseason moves will be tied to the theme of doing what’s best for Flacco so the Ravens can get the most out of their steep investment.

It’s fair to expect much more from the quarterback, but only if the front office, coaching staff, and supporting cast hold up their end of the bargain as well.

Even after handing Flacco the richest deal in franchise history last year, Bisciotti could recognize that simple truth on Wednesday.

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I called it last week — and Harbaugh confirmed it yesterday

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I called it last week — and Harbaugh confirmed it yesterday

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

A nice gesture by John Harbaugh in January of 2013 turned into a whopper of a train wreck for the Head Coach.

He took steps in an effort to fix it yesterday at the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference at the team’s facility in Owings Mills.

What did Harbaugh do?

He gave Juan Castillo the title he should have given him last January when the Ravens hired him to oversee their offensive line.

Last week as Luke and I reviewed the 2013 Ravens season, one of the topics centered on coaches and who we thought might return and who was on the bubble.

This was before Wilbert Montgomery was “moved on” for, essentially, insubordination.

As Luke and I went over the names, we eventually came to Castillo.  I contended then that Harbaugh’s biggest mistake was giving Juan Castillo the title of “Run Game Coordinator”.  I can see why Harbaugh did it that way, but hindsight tells us the title was a mistake.

To give Castillo a “new” title (the Ravens didn’t have a “Run Game Coordinator” before Castillo showed up) implied he was coming in to do something so specifically different that no one else on staff could manage it.  The only problem, of course, is the Ravens already had someone overseeing their run game.  His name was Wilbert Montgomery.  And, since a major component of running the ball is blocking for the ball carrier, they also had one of “those guys” in charge of coaching the offensive line — Andy Moeller.

Honestly, as I said last week, Harbaugh’s mistake wasn’t in hiring Castillo.  He’s a bright guy with a terrific resume.  John’s mistake was in giving Castillo the title of “Run Game Coordinator”.  When the running game fizzled in 2013, everyone simply pointed to the new guy who came in to coordinate the running game and said, “There’s the problem!”

Look, I understand John Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti and everyone else at Owings Mills couldn’t care less about what the “armchair quarterbacks” (aka, the fans) think about their style, scheme and methods of coaching.  Frankly, the fans don’t know anything about football, truth be told.  They know when a player does something well and they know when Matt Elam gets beat by A.J. Green that Elam was to blame, but the fans don’t know anything, really, about the true inner workings of all eleven players on either side of the ball and how Player A’s mistake and Player B’s inability to cover up for it leaves Player C exposed.

That said, Harbaugh and Bisciotti do owe it to the fans to review the performance of their coaches and players and determine who deserves to carry on with the team and who doesn’t.

What “the fans” think about Juan Castillo shouldn’t have anything to do with whether the Ravens keep him or not, but it’s clear from yesterday’s press conference that Harbaugh IS aware of the scrutiny and criticism his “Run Game Coordinator” endured during the recently completed 8-8 season.

That’s why Castillo is now the team’s “Offensive Line Coach”.  It’s basically what he was all along, even with Moeller in the fold, but the Head Coach didn’t want to create a potential firestorm by stripping Moeller of his title.

And, for anyone who thinks Castillo was the guy who wrecked the running game, let me tell you this:  He didn’t coach the running backs.  Wilbert Montgomery did.  As someone in the organization said to me yesterday, “Wilbert’s job was to make the running backs better.  Whether or not he did that is up to you (the media) guys to decide and report on in whatever fashion you want.”

Oddly enough, the Ravens also brought in a smart football mind in 2013 to help with their defense.  His name was Steve Spagnuolo. The former Rams Head Coach joined the club as their “Senior Defensive Assistant”.  The Ravens defense, as we saw time and time again, couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down.  They had a tendency to give up the big play in the 4th quarter as the Ravens tried to steal a win or two in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati.  Even though the defense outperformed the offense in 2013, the team’s defense was certainly a liability on a somewhat regular basis.  Why, then, was Spagnuolo not the same sort of lightning rod as Castillo?  One reason:  Title.

Castillo’s title suggested he was going to “fix” the running game.

Spagnuolo’s title suggested he was there to watch game film with Harbaugh and play racquetball with the coaches and front office members on Tuesday afternoons.

In theory — and based on his day to day duties — Castillo was brought on board to work with the offensive line.  We all know, of course, that was quite a mountain to climb for anyone…based on the personnel.

It would have helped the running game, for sure, if the offensive line that Castillo coached would have been better.  And, perhaps, the running game would have been better if Castillo and Andy Moeller coached their players better.

The running game might have also performed better if the running backs were in shape when training camp started — and capable of taking the punishment of an NFL season.

Here’s the one bullet point from yesterday that was reinforced to me by a staffer: The biggest loss the team incurred – player wise –  was Matt Birk.  And, as the staffer emphasized, “It wasn’t even close.  Our most significant loss was Birk.  We’re a playoff team if he’s the center.”

Moving forward, now, Juan Castillo is the team’s Offensive Line Coach.

There’s no word what that means for Andy Moeller.

And the team currently doesn’t have a “Running Backs Coach” after the departure of Montgomery.

One thing, for sure…regardless of title, the microscope remains focused on Juan Castillo.

For better or worse, he’s the new scapegoat in town moving forward.

And Baltimore, perhaps like no other city in the country, loves themselves a good old fashioned scapegoat.

Have fun, Juan.

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How are the Ravens and Orioles different?  You’ll see today at 10:00 am

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How are the Ravens and Orioles different? You’ll see today at 10:00 am

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

Of all the days that separate the two professional sports teams in Baltimore, today is the one that stands out the most.

No games get played.

No one wins.  No one loses.

No players signed.  No money spent.

Today is the day that tells you everything you need to know about the Ravens — and at the same time, reminds you of what you already knew about the Orioles.

Some might also consider that today shows why one of the teams is a perennial winner and the other isn’t.

This morning at 10:00 am, the football team will hold its annual “State of the Ravens” press conference at their facility in Owings Mills.  They don’t do this occasionally.  They don’t do it only after a successful season.  Since Steve Bisciotti assumed full control of the team, they’ve hosted this event every year a week or two after the season concludes.

It’s called, in a word, “accountability”.

The Ravens ooze it.

The Orioles need a transfusion of it.

The only person who faces the media regularly for the Orioles is Buck Showalter, and that’s typically only in pre-game or post-game form.  Buck hasn’t had any sort of pre-season en-masse sitdown with the Baltimore media since he took the job and, likewise, hasn’t had a post-season presser for the media in town to pepper him with questions about the season.  That said, I bet you anything you want that Showalter would gladly sit down with the media if presented the option of doing so without the natural interference provided by the stuffed suits at OPACY.

Dan Duquette hasn’t had a press conference – other than when he was hired – in…well…ummm…forever.

Hilarious, right?

Repeat this to yourself at least once to completely absorb the amazing lack of responsibility on behalf of Orioles management: Dan Duquette is entering his third season with the Orioles and he’s never, once, faced the Baltimore press corps for a “bring it on” press conference where we’re all allowed to ask questions about the way the baseball franchise is run.

Go ahead, read that again.  Unreal.  Right?

This, of course, is in direct contrast to the Ravens, who will welcome any and all media members into their house today and allow questions to be thrown at Bisciotti, Team President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh.

None of the questions will be dodged, unless some goof in the room says something like, “Yeah, this is for Ozzie.  Are you guys interested in trading for Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars?  He’s really good you know.”  Ozzie, of course, can’t answer any question about a player currently under contract with another team.  But he’ll answer any other REAL questions thrown his way today.

There’s no list of “off-limits-topics” distributed beforehand.  And, unlike the Orioles, who specialize in not allowing their critics to question them, the Ravens don’t “hand-pick” who is allowed in the room and who asks questions and who doesn’t.

The Orioles are so afraid of their critics they take away their press credentials and display a picture of the suspect at the main entrance behind home plate the same way the FBI posts pictures of their Most Wanted List in post offices.

The Ravens say, “Come on in, everyone, and ask whatever you want.”

The Orioles say, “You — you, right there.  You can come in.  You, though, you can’t come in.”

Accountability.  It’s what fuels today’s “State of the Ravens” gathering.

As long time Ravens P.R. Vice President Kevin Byrne said to me once, “We like this sort of review.  We appreciate the questions and the challenges.  We constantly evaluate ourselves.  We’re not worried about having people ask us why we do what we do.”

After the press conference, all four of the men will routinely hang around for some “off-the-record” discussions in the event you wanted to press an issue that was touched upon during the “open” portion of the event.

Yes, it’s true.  Steve Bisciotti simply stands in the corner and you ask him whatever you want.  One year, I asked him, simply, “How much money did the team make this past season?”  And, he stood right there and answered it.

Can you imagine asking Peter Angelos that question?

Wait — can you imagine Peter making himself AVAILABLE, first of all?  Then, what if that question got posed to him?  You can only imagine the result.

(Please see next page)

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We debut our #WNSTSweet16 list with the Greatest Local Sports debuts

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We debut our #WNSTSweet16 list with the Greatest Local Sports debuts

Posted on 07 January 2014 by Glenn Clark

On Sunday night we introduced our first #WNSTSweet16 discussion topic for 2014. As we celebrate 16 years as Baltimore’s local sports media leader, we’re looking at some of the “water cooler” topics you’ve most discussed since we first turned on the microphone.

With the debut of #WNSTSweet16, our first list focuses on just that-debuts. The Greatest Local Sports Debuts is the topic in fact. As we look over the history of Baltimore (and Maryland) sports, what single games, seasons, etc. stand out as the best of the best?

We’ve been discussing the topic here, on-air at AM1570 WNST and on social media for the last couple of days and will continue to do so. Here’s the list.

16. The inaugural season of the Baltimore CFL Colts/Baltimore CFL’s/Baltimore Football Club/Baltimore Stallions (1994)

As I look back on the first of two years of Canadian football in Charm City, what stands out most was the attendance figures for the home games.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, that’s 31,000 or more fans at EVERY home game at Memorial Stadium to watch (let’s be honest) a second rate product. It was a remarkable testament to the rabid nature of football fandom in Baltimore and further proof of the city’s worthiness of a NFL return. The team itself was quite good-including future NFL players like O.J. Brigance, Josh Miller and Shar Pourandesh as well as Canadian Football Hall of Famers like Tracey Ham and Mike Pringle. The season ended with a loss to the BC Lions in the Grey Cup, a year before the franchise would become the only American team to ever win a Grey Cup.

No. 15 next page…

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Reactions pour in to the passing of Baltimore icon Art Donovan

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Reactions pour in to the passing of Baltimore icon Art Donovan

Posted on 04 August 2013 by WNST Staff

A number of luminaries have offered their reaction to the death of former Baltimore Colts DL Art Donovan, via AM1570 WNST.net, Twitter or press releases. Here are a few of the reactions:

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti:
“We lost a friend, one of the finest men and one of the greatest characters we were fortunate to meet in this community and in this business. Baltimore is now without one of its best and someone who was a foundation for the tremendous popularity of football in our area. The world is not as bright tonight because we lost someone who could make us all smile.”

Former Baltimore Colts teammate and Hall of Fame wide receiver Raymond Berry:
“He’s one of the greatest people that I’ve ever been around. What he brought to a crowd was a very positive, uplifting experience. If he didn’t have a story, he’d make up one in a few seconds. It wasn’t any problem.”

“He is one of the most influential people in that what he brought to a group, what he brought to an individual, what he brought to a crowd was just a very positive and uplifting experience. When you were in his presence for any amount of time you benefited from the experience.”

Former Baltimore Colts teammate and tight end Jim Mutscheller:
“We lost a great guy. He was one of those people that always made you feel good and kept you smiling. He loved to play the game. He was strong, he was quick. He was a good football player that kept you in the game.”

“He would say things to keep you on your toes and keep you from getting a big head or thinking you were better than you really were. He kept people in the ballgame as far as their heads were concerned. He was a true football player.”

Former Baltimore Ravens DT Tony Siragusa:

Ravens RB Ray Rice (via Facebook):
“RIP Art Donovan – truly a great player and a great man…a legend and someone to really look up to. Sometimes it seems like they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Former WJZ sportscaster John Buren:
“Has there ever been a better fit for a television product and a town? He was wonderful. He was an absolute gift and I felt like I was undeserving of the gift, but by God I appreciated it. He had a great comedian sense of timing.

“Art Donovan knew who he was. He knew he was a star, but he never lost his interest in real people. He was just interested in talking to people. Artie didn’t big-foot anybody.”

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay:
“On a weekend when the NFL welcomed more players into the Hall of Fame, we lost one of its most significant enshrinees, Art Donovan. Art was the first Colts player to be inducted into the Hall, and his roots date back to the very start of the franchise. Art was a battle-tested veteran who stood among the giants in helping lead the Colts to their first two world championships. While many later knew Art as a colorful ambassador to the sport because of his personality, those who played alongside and against him attest to his grit and greatness. Art is a beloved figure to many and is the only player to wear number 70 in Colts history. His number is retired among Colts greats. Art truly is an unforgettable figure in our sport, and we extend our sympathies to his family.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame Vice President Joe Horrigan (Per NFL.com):
“One of the great, great players. Not only a great player, but a great person. Everybody loved him. Great sense of humor. Great human. Art was also in the Marine Hall of Fame. He fought for his country in World War II — distinguished himself there.

Art came to Baltimore in kind of an odd way. He came from the Dallas Texans, which went defunct. They went belly up and they ended up in Baltimore. Baltimore was looking for a football team back then in 1952. And they got this football team, and Art became this cornerstone along with a guy named Johnny Unitas a little bit later. Took them to that famous 1958 championship game. He was the first defensive character that the fans rallied around and loved. Even in his later years, he was a guest on late night talk shows. Just had this great personality. His father was a great boxing referee. He was a character, one of the true characters in sport.”

Baltimore actor and star of “The Good Wife” Josh Charles (via Twitter):
“Art Donovan was passionate about the game he loved, but never took himself too seriously. I only wish more athletes of today followed suit.”

Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller (Per NFL.com):
“It’s a great loss to the league. He was part of those teams with (Johnny) Unitas and Lenny Moore. And our careers just about crossed each other. Just was a great player was a hard worker. Was the kind of a guy I think his teammates got to know him personally and his antics and all of the stuff before the rest of the world did. The rest of the world learned that he really was a fun guy to be around, but he was a great tackle, a great player.”

Former Baltimore Colts RB Tom Matte:

“Artie was such an integral part of football in this town…he was an icon in his day and a character all by himself.  He was the personality of the team..he kept us loose…he was a character. He’s great spontaneously coming up with stuff.   The fans loved him because they identified with him…it made it really special how we blent into the city.”

Former Baltimore Colts DB Bruce Laird:

“We lost Art Donovan last night. The world lost a member of the Colts 1958 and 1959 NFL Championships, an NFL Hall of Fame player, a successful businessman, a character, a favorite of David Letterman’s, and an advocate for retired players.”

“I soon came to know Arthur J. Donovan and throughout our friendship of 41 years, he surprised me not only with his sharp wit, but also with his kindness, his generosity, his spirit, his commitment, and his enjoyment of life. Art became a mentor to me and to other Colts, entertaining us with his stories, guiding us with his wisdom and holding us accountable. He treated with respect each person he encountered, whether it was a young fan seeking his autograph, a patron at his liquor store or country club, a teammate or friend, or a secretary in the Colts’ front office.”

Maryland Football Coach Randy Edsall:

“He was a guy full of character. All about hard work, blue-collar.  But also, not taking yourself too seriously.  He loved being around people and wanted to let people know how good Baltimore was…he epitomized what Baltimore was all about. Not only with how he played the game, but how he interacted with people.  How he made people feel.  He could make you laugh.  I remember watching him when I was a youngster.  The enthusiasm he had for playing the game; that, to me, was special.  He stayed here and was involved in the community.  He gave back and made a difference in a lot of people’s lives.  He made you want to root for the Colts because of who he was.”

Colts WR Jimmy Orr, who played with Donovan in the 1961 season:

“He always had a funny story. When you ran into him, you just had to start laughing.  He was always joking around…he was always having fun. He was already big-time and well-known in Baltimore when I got there because he knew everyone.”

Hall of Fame coach and former Colts DB Don Shula:

When I first met him, I only knew him as a teammate. It took awhile to get to know him outside the team…everyone wanted [Art] to tell stories. You could always get him to do that. As a teammate and football player, he was great. As a teammate, everyone wanted to be around [Art].” His personality was always happiness. There was always a smile, a chuckle, and a laugh”


David Letterman, host of “Late Night with David Letterman”

“We always looked forward to Art coming on the show because he would not only tell a great story, he just made you happy he was there. He was always humble and self-effacing, a guy from a different era of professional football who could make anyone laugh. We will miss him.”

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Bisciotti anoints Flacco new leader of Ravens at ring ceremony

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Bisciotti anoints Flacco new leader of Ravens at ring ceremony

Posted on 10 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

If there were any remaining doubts about who the new leader of the Ravens would be after the retirement of Ray Lewis and the free-agent departure of Ed Reed, owner Steve Bisciotti made it elementary during Friday’s ring ceremony.

Addressing the entire organization before unveiling the much-anticipated jewelry commemorating the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory, Bisciotti confirmed that sixth-year quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco will assume the role left behind by the two future Hall of Fame defensive players. No longer will Flacco just be entrusted to lead the offense but the 28-year-old will now be the principal figure of the entire roster, according to the owner.

“You are the leader now, like it or not,” said Bisciotti to Flacco, according to the team’s official site. “Not many guys do what you did in five years. Not many did it your way. Not many like the way you do it. But I said at the end-of-the-year press conference after last year’s [postseason] defeat that I think the fans of Baltimore will be rewarded by your low-key presence, and it will stand the test of time.”

It certainly has to this point as Flacco became just the second quarterback in NFL history — joining Joe Montana — to throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in a single postseason. The 2008 first-round pick is also the only signal-caller in league history to not only advance to the postseason in each of his first five years but to win at least one playoff game per postseason.

Of course, no one should expect any dramatic changes in the quarterback’s personality or the camera-friendly flare of Lewis, but Flacco himself has acknowledged becoming more vocal over the years because he naturally feels more comfortable in his surroundings. Many have pointed out that Flacco is more vocal behind the scenes than what we see on game day and in interviews when he is often accused by critics of being too passive.

Flacco was rewarded with a six-year, $120.6 million contract this offseason, becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time. Speaking to reporters after receiving his first championship ring on Friday night, the Baltimore quarterback expressed how touched he was to have been singled out with praise by Bisciotti during the speech.

“It was pretty cool,” Flacco said. “Steve is an awesome dude, a great owner, and this is a great organization. You can see how special of a night this is and how over the top they went for it. I think that just says a lot about him, and obviously, I’m honored that he would bring me up.”

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Waiting no gamble at all in Flacco’s eyes as he finally cashes in

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Waiting no gamble at all in Flacco’s eyes as he finally cashes in

Posted on 04 March 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been the narrative opening uttered over and over this month as Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl and then signed a $120.6 million deal to become the highest-paid player in NFL history.

The Ravens quarterback took a major gamble and won — or that’s what makes the story sound juicier.

Believed to be offered a contract in the neighborhood of $16 million per season last summer, Flacco didn’t think he was being reckless or risking much of anything after he had led the Ravens to a playoff win in each of his first four seasons and hadn’t missed a single game due to injury. His reason for walking away from general manager Ozzie Newsome’s best offer was quite simple.

And it had nothing to do with being a riverboat gambler.

“I thought I was worth more,” said Flacco, who viewed a serious injury as the only real risk in playing out his contract. “I didn’t really see any circumstances where I wouldn’t end up getting paid more than what they were willing to give me at that point. It wasn’t like I was going to make any different salary last year than I was making already [other than] I might have gotten some upfront money.

“I figured play one more year and see what we could do as a football team. Have confidence in myself, have confidence in the guys around me, and just let it play itself out from there.”

It played out perfectly for the 28-year-old as he took his $6.76 million salary in the final year of his rookie contract and completed one of the best postseason runs in NFL history by throwing for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, resulting in wins over two of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks along the way and leading the Ravens to their second NFL championship.

Flacco figured the original offer — claimed by owner Steve Bisciotti to be in the range of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league — would remain on the table at worst but said his opinion of his own value would have remained as high as what he ultimately received, regardless of how the postseason played out for Baltimore. In his eyes, becoming a Super Bowl MVP didn’t transcend what he had already meant to the franchise.

“If we didn’t win the Super Bowl this year, I still think I’m worth the same and I still think I’m the same person to this organization,” Flacco said. “It may not be seen that way, but that’s the bottom line. I still think I give the team the best chance to win moving forward, whether we won or lost this year. I think it makes it a little easier for Steve to reach into his pockets having said that we won the Super Bowl. People don’t have to look at him as crazy as they may have if he had given me this much last year.”

We’ll never know how the Ravens ultimately would have valued their franchise quarterback this offseason had they not made it to New Orleans or triumphed in Super Bowl XLVII, but it’s a hypothetical question general manager Ozzie Newsome is glad he doesn’t need to answer. Forking over the richest contract in NFL history is easier to swallow as you’re awaiting your second Super Bowl ring in the last 13 seasons.

And that’s not to mention any of the bad memories of searching many years for a franchise quarterback, sifting through first-round busts, declining veterans, and a number of projects and placeholders who didn’t pan out. The feeling of being stuck in the quarterback abyss was not a pleasant one for a franchise with a championship-caliber defense for nearly a decade before finally striking it rich with the University of Delaware product.

“We just returned from the [NFL scouting combine], and I remember the days of going there and studying and hoping that one of the quarterbacks could be our guy,” Newsome said in a team statement. “‘Could so-and-so be our third-round Joe Montana or our sixth-round Tom Brady?’ We’ve been out in that desert before. That all changed when we drafted Joe in 2008.”

Some critics have dismissed Flacco’s accomplishments over the four-game postseason run, citing the gaffe by Broncos safety Rahim Moore on Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown at the end of regulation in the divisional-round win in Denver.

Key changes such as the elevation of Jim Caldwell to offensive coordinator and the insertion of Bryant McKinnie at the left tackle position, the improved health of several key players, and even good fortune were all important factors creating the necessary momentum for Flacco and the Ravens to reach the top of the mountain.

It started with a dismantling of the New York Giants in Week 16, continued with the luxury of resting starters in the regular-season finale in Cincinnati, and snowballed after a wild-card playoff win against Indianapolis in the returning Ray Lewis’ final home game. Before they knew it, the Ravens were raising the Lombardi Trophy in the Superdome and Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP.

“There are a lot of things that happened late in the season that if they hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl,” Flacco said. “But they did. I’ve always said that there’s definitely a little bit of luck involved in winning the thing. It’s about the team that gets hot at the right time.”

The record-setting contract awarded to Flacco resulted in a perfect storm of his strong play, the financial difficulties by way of the salary cap, and a little bit of luck.

That’s not a knock on the quarterback, who played his best football over the most important four-week span of his career. The six-year deal will inevitably be revised as it’s structured to essentially be a three-year contract before cap numbers spiral out of control.

But it’s put Flacco on track to finish his career with the Ravens.

“That’s the plan,” Flacco said. “I can’t see it happening any other way.”

It’d be tough to bet against him on that one.

As he taught us this season, it’s not really gambling if you know what you’re doing.

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Timing everything as Flacco becomes highest-paid player in NFL history

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Timing everything as Flacco becomes highest-paid player in NFL history

Posted on 01 March 2013 by Luke Jones

It was the perfect storm of circumstances for Joe Flacco to become the highest-paid player in NFL history, regardless of whether you think the Ravens quarterback is truly deserving of the title.

Believing Flacco isn’t the best quarterback in the league is more than fair, but it didn’t hold any weight at the negotiating table this time around as general manager Ozzie Newsome, owner Steve Bisciotti, and the entire organization were just fitted for their championship rings a few weeks ago. His play over the final four games of the season pushed him into the top tier of quarterbacks and that’s all that’s needed to fetch the richest contract in league history when it’s your turn in line.

That will become evident in the near future when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers receives his payday that will likely eclipse the Baltimore quarterback’s deal.

Yes, Flacco bet on himself last summer by turning down the Ravens’ best offer — rumored to be a contract in the $16 million-per-year range — and proved everyone wrong by completing arguably the greatest postseason performance in NFL history. With Flacco leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, arguments over whether he was elite or where he ultimately ranked in the hierarchy of NFL quarterbacks became irrelevant.

The sight of Flacco raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl MVP in New Orleans was all that was needed to predict what will become official on Monday when he signs a six-year, $120.6 million. Timing is everything when it comes to contract negotiations, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a professional athlete seizing the opportunity.

Flacco, his agent Joe Linta, and the Ravens all knew there was no other outcome after the 28-year-old was at his best on the biggest stage possible.

Even if they paid more than they would have liked in a perfect world, the Ravens knew there was no way they could let their franchise quarterback go after he did exactly what they asked of him by throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in four postseason games, topping two of the greatest quarterbacks in league history along the way. Their salary-cap restrictions prohibited them from trying to play hardball as the use of the pricy franchise tag would have meant virtually no chance for the Ravens to make any other moves of significant note this offseason, in terms of re-signing their other unrestricted free agents or pursuing other talent on the open market.

The choice was simple: sign their franchise quarterback to a long-term deal now — even if it meant overpaying in some critics’ minds — or lose a number of other players and risk alienating Flacco and his representation further by using the franchise tag. And even though there was no tangible fear of losing their quarterback, the Ravens’ memory of lackluster play from the likes of Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Chris Redman, and virtually every other quarterback in town prior to 2008 was enough to provide a final nudge if necessary.

It wasn’t a choice at all, really, and that’s why critics arguing that Flacco’s new-found fortune is too much are wasting their breath. Negotiations don’t take place in a vacuum as Flacco’s side had all the leverage in the world. Taking a stand is a lot easier when you’re standing on the sideline, and Newsome and the Ravens had no such luxury.

The year-by-year breakdown of the deal has yet to be revealed, but the Ravens are likely to receive some relief for 2013 in comparison to the cap figure Flacco would have carried if slapped with the franchise tag. As any team paying a top quarterback will tell you, the Ravens hope the league’s new television deal will inflate the salary cap substantially starting in 2015 to ease the pain of what will be some gigantic cap numbers over the next few years.

But none of that talk can dampen the satisfaction of knowing the Ravens have their man locked up for the next six years.

The pressure will now be on Flacco to live up to the terms of his record-breaking deal. Observers will expect more performances like he showed in the postseason instead of the modest 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions he threw during the regular season.

The cost of business clearly went up in terms of the quarterback’s compensation, so the expectations will justifiably rise as well.

And that’s a compliment to Flacco as he enters the prime of his career with a full offseason to work with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, whose December promotion paid dividends for the Baltimore offense. Higher expectations will be there because Flacco showed he was fully capable of playing at that elite level against the best competition the NFL had to offer.

Flacco reached the pinnacle for the first time in his career last month and now he will be asked to do it again every year — even if we know that’s not really possible.

It may sound too harsh, but there are 120 million reasons why that’s a reasonable demand.

And knowing the Ravens quarterback, that’s perfectly fine with him.

 

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Of course ticket prices are increasing for the Ravens

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Of course ticket prices are increasing for the Ravens

Posted on 20 February 2013 by Drew Forrester

Complaining about the Ravens raising ticket prices is like moaning about a yellow light that suddenly turns to red.

What, you thought it was going to stay yellow forever?

I’m not a ticket buyer, so naturally it’s easy for me to just sit back and say, “deal with it”.  But, honestly, ticket prices have to go up every couple of years, particularly in a market like Baltimore where the team’s new revenue sources are few and far between.

The team defended themselves on Tuesday by citing “player costs” as a reason for the increase.  A couple of folks e-mailed me to complain, using the argument of “but the salary cap isn’t going up in 2013″ to justify why the Ravens were wrong for raising the prices.  No, sirs, you’re wrong.

When the Ravens are forced to fork over forty or fifty million to Joe Flacco sometime in the next two weeks, where do you folks think that money comes from?

What about the ten million they’ll have to give Dannell Ellerbe if they keep him around?

If Ed Reed stays, who ponies up his five million signing bonus?

Hint:  You know the guy.

It’s you.

Yes, sure, Steve Bisciotti owns the team.  And he might literally be forced to “loan his company” forty million to appease Flacco and his agent.  But that money goes right back to the owner when it’s in and available for repayment.  Steve Bisciotti himself doesn’t pay Joe Flacco or any player out of his own pocket.  He might initially be involved in a transaction because he has that kind of cash availability, but once all the team monies are collected and deposited, the owner eventually gets repaid the dough he shelled out.

When the Ravens cite “player costs” as a reason for increasing their ticket prices, an increase in the salary cap isn’t necessarily part of the equation.  Some people just assumed that was the case.  It’s not, though.

I also had to LOL on Tuesday when I heard a couple of geniuses say something like this on the radio: “Bisciotti makes so much money on the team it’s sickening.  Every team in the league is making fifty million a year.”

No, gentlemen, they are most certainly NOT making fifty million a year.

In fact, over the last two seasons – prior to 2012 – the Ravens have made a little more than sixteen million in profit.  Yes, the owner of every NFL team draws a one million salary from the club.  That’s a fact.  But in 2010 and 2011, the team combined for slightly more than sixteen million in profit.  ”That’s it?” you’re asking.  Yes, that’s really it.  Steve Bisciotti, if you believe him – and I do – told some of us in the media a couple of Januarys ago that it’s not at all rare for the Ravens to break even or generate very little profit in a given season.  If you just do the simple match, it’s easy to believe him.  The football team has $120 million in expenses before a ball ever gets kicked off.  This season, the TV money ($118mm) and the salary cap ($120mm) were nearly identical. You haven’t employed a staff member, flown a plane or bought insurance for anyone yet, let alone pay the light bill at the team’s facility.  I have no idea what the Ravens made in 2012, but I bet it wasn’t much.  Maybe twelve million bucks?

That will all change in 2014, though.  Given the new TV monies coming into the league, each NFL team stands to receive $200 million from the pool of money paid to the league.  Not surprisingly, the salary cap is expected to rise by potentially as much as $18 million per-team — but that’s not until NEXT season.

And, oh, by the way, aren’t football teams allowed to make a profit?  Remember, I’m the guy who has told you this little secret for about ten years now:  Owners of sports teams don’t REALLY own the club — the community owns the club.  They merely own the right to make a profit off the team.

Any economist would tell you that a company worth $700 million (Ravens) generating a profit of only $7mm to $10mm a year is doing something woefully wrong.  Yes, the football team is a winning business proposition for the owner, but it’s not returning nearly as much as you think it would based on the overall value.

Steve Bisciotti has every right to make a profit off the team.  That’s why he paid $600 million for it.  And despite what anyone might think, how much of a profit he makes while he owns the team really isn’t anyone’s business AS LONG AS HE’S RUNNING THE CLUB IN A MANNER THAT REWARDS THE INVESTMENT MADE BY THE FANS AND THE SPONSORS.

I’d say, based on that game the Ravens just won in New Orleans three weeks ago, Mr. Bisciotti is doing a pretty fair job of running the football team.

Ticket prices going up?

You bet they are.

The Ravens just won the Super Bowl, pal.

If you can’t raise the prices after you’ve won the world championship, when CAN you raise them?

 

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Offseason begins and ends with resolving Flacco contract

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Offseason begins and ends with resolving Flacco contract

Posted on 07 February 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even after winning their second Super Bowl only days ago, the Ravens wasted no time in beginning preparations for the 2013 season.

A day after celebrating with a downtown parade and a rally at M&T Bank Stadium, general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and the front office were back at it with a 10-hour personnel meeting on Wednesday in which they evaluated 70 to 75 players. It’s no secret the Ravens face a tight salary cap this offseason, leaving many to wonder if they’d go the same route used in the offseason following Super Bowl XXXV in which the organization put cap ramifications on the back burner in favor of making another run at a championship.

Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti put that possibility to rest at the Ravens’ season-review press conference on Thursday.

“We will not repeat what we did in 2001 because we’re trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time,” Newsome said. “I think our team is structured differently this time also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring, but we’ve got a great nucleus of young players and players that are just heading into their prime that we’re going to build this team around. We are not going to be restructuring contracts or doing all of those different things to be able to just maintain this team to make another run. We’re not doing that.

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to try to go and repeat.”

That reality means the Ravens will likely say goodbye to a number of their 13 unrestricted free agents, which include safety Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cary Williams, and quarterback Joe Flacco. Of those players, Flacco is the only one certain to return as the Ravens will try to reach a long-term agreement with the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player prior to the deadline for using the franchise tag on March 4.

Even with a long-term contract completed with the quarterback, the Ravens are unlikely to maintain the services of Kruger or Williams, who will both receive significant offers on the free-agent market in mid-March. According to several reports, the Ravens are expected to have roughly $15 million in cap space including the money saved from Ray Lewis’ retirement, but that doesn’t account for money needed for the tag for Flacco and for tenders offered to restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. Of course, additional money could come via the retirement of veterans such as Matt Birk or Bobbie Williams or by releasing other veterans.

“We’re not going to get caught up in the moment and do things to our salary cap and make decisions in the euphoria of winning that could hurt us in 2014 and 2015 like we did in 2001,” owner Steve Bisciotti said. “Every single veteran was restructured, I think, so that every single veteran could stay and then we ended up losing so many people the next year. We don’t want to do that.”

In order to maintain any real sense of continuity, the Ravens must agree on a long-term contract with Flacco, but agent Joe Linta has said he’s aiming for his client to become the highest-paid quarterback in the league. The 2008 first-round pick is believed to be seeking $20 million per season with a significant portion of the deal including guaranteed money.

Bisciotti said Thursday the organization offered Flacco a “top-5″ contract last summer and believes winning the Super Bowl this season would not hinder negotiations more than if the Ravens had exited in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’re looking to get a fair deal with Joe and, yes, the franchise number does consume a lot of cap room,” Newsome said. “We’re looking for a fair deal; Joe Linta is looking for a fair deal. If we are able to get a deal done, it will allow us to be able to participate more in the market if we so choose. But we understand what the priority is.”

That priority would include being forced to use the franchise tag to keep Flacco in Baltimore, which would cost $14.6 million for the 2013 season. However, that is only the price for a non-exclusive designation, meaning teams could sign Flacco to an offer sheet if they’d be willing to fork over two first-round picks should the Ravens not match the offer.

The exclusive rights tag would cost roughly $20 million, but it would prohibit teams desperate enough for a quarterback to negotiate with Flacco. Last year, the Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the second overall pick to draft Robert Griffin III.

“What you have to look at is what the Redskins did this past year to move up to get Robert Griffin,” Newsome said. “If someone thinks that a quarterback is that valuable and I’m sure you can talk to [the Washington front office], they’re very happy with [Griffin] right now and they don’t mind not having those draft picks. I don’t know what 31 other teams are doing, so we have to prepare ourselves for it.”

As the Ravens continue to organize their list of priorities for the 2013 offseason, the fate of Flacco remains at the top of the list as a long-term agreement is a must in order to maintain hope of re-signing or acquiring any impact players.

But time is running out as Newsome joked that the Ravens are “five weeks behind” the rest of the league after winning the Super Bowl. Much has changed with the perception of Flacco, who just completed one of the greatest playoff performances in NFL history.

“I’m coming away today thinking that we can get a deal done,” Newsome said. “We’ve gotten deals done with Haloti [Ngata], [Jonathan Ogden], Ray [Lewis], Ray Rice, Ed Reed, [Terrell] Suggs. I’ve got a very good owner who understands the business [and] understands the importance of certain positions, so I’m optimistic.”

Biggest need up the middle

Asked to assess the biggest area of need for next season, Newsome admitted the middle of the Baltimore defense needed to be improved, in part because of the failure of young players to step up but also due to a number of possible departures.

With Lewis retiring and Ellerbe and Reed potentially hitting the open market, the Ravens could look very different at the linebacker and safety positions next season. Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes, and Brendon Ayanbadejo would be the top returning inside linebackers while 2012 fourth-round pick Christian Thompson would be the next man up on the depth chart at the safety position.

The combination of third-year player Terrence Cody and veteran Ma’ake Kemoeatu was also severely disappointing at the nose tackle position.

“As we talked about it, the middle of the defense [is a priority],” Newsome said. “We think we’ve got to get better at defensive tackle. We know we have one linebacker retiring and another that’s a free agent. We have a safety that’s a free agent and some young guys that have yet to step up. We would say the middle of the defense is the one area that we would concentrate on.

“In saying that, we realized that pass rushers and guys that can cover, we felt pretty good about that.”

The Ravens might not feel as good about their pass rush with the expected departure of Kruger, but Terrell Suggs figures to bounce back from an injury-plagued season and rookie Courtney Upshaw played effectively against the run and should continue to develop in his first full offseason with the team.

Newsome expressed no specific concerns on the offensive side of the football beyond the need to secure Flacco long-term.

“Offensively, we will not turn down a good player if that player is available for us on the offensive side of the ball,” Newsome said. “We just won’t do it, because you can never have enough depth.”

Chance of Reed return?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>

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