Wearing a blue sport coat, loafers and his trademark tan, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has rediscovered his smile after a devastating AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots.
That doesn't mean the Anne Arundel County businessman isn't still feeling the hurt of a crushing defeat where wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential touchdown pass in the final minute and kicker Billy Cundiff flubbed a chip shot field goal in the final seconds.
"No, I'm not over it," Bisciotti said Wednesday during a state of the team press conference at team headquarters. "The more you get into 2012, the more you realize the pain is going away. I don't think any of us are over it, but we have to move on."
When asked what the Ravens need to do to make the Super Bowl, Bisciotti replied quickly: "Hold on to a ball."
Although the Ravens have a hefty workload in terms of offseason business, Bisciotti is encouraged about the future and was adamant that the AFC North champions will remain a contender by locking up quarterback Joe Flacco and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice to new contracts.
The Ravens might have to use a $7.7 million franchise tag to hold onto Rice, an unrestricted free agent who led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage.
"Ray's an unrestricted free agent, so obviously, the franchise mechanism has to come into play," Bisciotti said.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome added that the team prefers to sign Rice to a long-term deal as soon as possible rather than designate him as the franchise player. They can use the tag as soon as Feb. 20 with an NFL deadline of March 5.
Although Flacco is under contract through next season, the Ravens intend to sign him to a long-term contract.
Negotiations could prove difficult with Flacco, though, due to differing views between the quarterback and the organization on how much he should be paid.
"With Joe, we're just going to sit down and start grinding out a contract and terms," Bisciotti said. "Ray and Joe Flacco will be part of this football team next year, guaranteed."
The Ravens went 13-5 last season, going 9-0 at M&T Bank Stadium as they advanced to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row and the AFC title game for the second time in four seasons under coach John Harbaugh.
Significant changes won't be in the offing. An overhaul definitely isn't in the Ravens' future.
"When you put up the kind of numbers and the success that we have, then it really comes down to tweaking," Bisciotti said. "And we are forced to tweak regardless. We don't have an opportunity to stand pat."
Flacco endured heavy criticism for his tendency to hold the football too long in the pocket to his quiet demeanor in the huddle.
Bisciotti defended Flacco, who has a new position coach now with former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell hired as quarterbacks coach.
"I think he's going to be extremely successful, I think he's going to have rings," Bisciotti said. "He's got 10 years of his prime to show it. I think that he will be rewarded for his personality in the long run, and I think our fans will, too."
"We're going to stay the course. We believe in him. We believe he is getting stronger mentally and smarter with the ball."Unlike a year ago when general manager Ozzie Newsome made it abundantly clear that Flacco needed to improve, he endorsed the towering New Jersey native enthusiastically.
And Newsome praised Flacco for adjusting to the removal of favorite targets Todd Heap and Derrick Mason prior to training camp last summer.
"There's no doubt that Joe improved," Newsome said. "The thing that I like about Joe, when you're in this business, you are judged on one thing: winning. Joe wins. If he continues to win, if one pass is caught, he'd be in a Super Bowl.
"And I think he's going to win Super Bowls, a lot of them. And I hope to be a part of them. He has improved. The thing that you cannot knock about Joe is that he's a winner."
The Ravens know that it will be difficult to retain all of their free agents, especially guard Ben Grubbs.
The Ravens invested a five-year, $32.5 million contract in guard Marshal Yanda last August that included a $10 million signing bonus.
Grubbs is expected to be command an even more expensive figure in the marketplace, perhaps as high as $40 million to $50 million in total value.
Ideally, the Ravens would like to hold onto him.
"Ben has two major factors that we like: He's a really good player and he's young," Newsome said. "Ben was here in the building just two hours ago, and I had a good talk with him. I think we're at a good spot with Ben, but will Ben keep us from getting and who will we have to let go in order to keep Ben? That's going to be the balance."
The reality is Grubbs' situation could unfold the way it did years ago when the Ravens lost another promising young offensive lineman in center Jason Brown as he signed with the St. Louis Rams.
The Ravens are unlikely to sacrifice several players in order to keep Rice, Flacco and Grubbs.
"I would have to say then, ‘Who would we let go to keep those three guys?'" Newsome said. "Because if we decide to let four or five players go, waive them, terminate them, then we could keep those three very easily. It's easy to do if I was to sit here, ‘I'm going to cut this guy, cut this guy and cut this guy.' Then, I could sign all three of those guys in two days."
Bisciotti expressed confidence that the Ravens' window to contend isn't slamming shut due to the roster growing older.
"Teams like the Patriots and Steelers are older than we are," Bisciotti said. "I don't see age as being a window-closer, not when you have a franchise quarterback entering his fifth year."
The Ravens will eventually have to replace two defensive legends in middle linebacker Ray Lewis, whose 37th birthday is in May, and free safety Ed Reed. Reed turns 34 next September and dealt with a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder problems last season.
Lewis has already declared that he's not retiring. Reed made the same indication in a radio interview that he intends to return.
"Ed doesn't give definitive answers," Bisciotti said with a laugh. "No, no, he hasn't. We didn't get that same proclamation that we got from Ray. We're assuming he's going to be back. He's under contract, and I think he still has the desire to play."
Both former NFL Defensive Players of the Year played through pain and questions were raised about whether they can sustain their high standard of play.
The Ravens have no clear line of succession for Lewis and Reed at this point.
"We don't know if they're on the roster yet," Bisciotti said. "I don't know that you ever look to replace Hall of Famers at their positions. They didn't find Ray Nitschke's replacement. Thirty-five years later, they've got a great linebacker, but they didn't go out and replace him." I don't think you replace Hall of Famers. I think they show up in different areas, and as long as we're willing to spend the money, we will have four or five Pro Bowlers on our team.
"We don't know where they're going to show up later. So, I don't think you replace them. And then safety and linebacker might not be our best two positions three years from now. They might be rookie or second-year guys, up-and-comers."
The Ravens could possibly wind up cutting some veteran players whose contracts have dwarfed their contributions on the field, including cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth, Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans.
"Because of the way we started to do business three or four years ago - when John [Harbaugh] came on board, we do a good job of looking at our cost today and then our cost in the future and we try to balance both of them," Newsome said. "We will be able to put as competitive a football team on the field as we need to be able to compete with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland because that's where it starts."
Newsome said the team is interested in potentially signing restricted free agent cornerback Lardarius Webb to an extension.
"Yes. I think it would be best for this organization," Newsome said. "The sooner you strike, the better deal you can get for yourself."
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has yet to decide whether he'll retire or return, and free agent Andre Gurode has expressed interest in coming back.
While saying the Ravens are looking to bolster the offensive line, wide receiver and the pass rush during the offseason, Newsome indicated that center is something the team will look to add no matter what Birk decides.
"We don't know what Matt Birk is going to do yet," Newsome said. "He was in the building yesterday. Andre is a free agent, but he's acknowledged to me that he enjoyed his one year in Baltimore and would like to continue. I will say this: Before we line up and play in 2012, there will be another center on this football team in some capacity, free agency, draft or whatever."
The Ravens have gone 44-20 in the regular season under coach John Harbaugh and are the only NFL team to make the playoffs each of the past four seasons and win at least one playoff game.
Although the Ravens have yet to reach a Super Bowl during that span, Bisciotti is encouraged about the future.
"There's a lot of pride and a lot of disappointment," Bisciotti said. "I am proud of the product we're giving Baltimore."
Ravens notebook: Newsome not retiring
As the Baltimore Ravens head into what shapes up as an important offseason of business decisions, they'll still have general manager Ozzie Newsome's experience to rely upon.
Newsome has no intentions to retire.
The Ravens have contractually designated Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta as their general manager in waiting.
"I enjoy coming to work every single day, I work with good people," Newsome said Wednesday. "I enjoy coming to work. I don't know if I have a bad day. I might make a lot of mistakes, but I don't know if I have a bad day at the office. With the people that are in the building, I really, really enjoy what I do.
"I don't know how much longer. I want Super Bowls. Steve [Bisciotti] and I talk about two Super Bowls and three Super Bowls. Once I get to that point, I'll start deciding. This is a great place to come to work at."
STICKING UP FOR CAMERON: The Ravens decided to retain offensive coordinator Cam Cameron shortly after they lost the AFC championship game.
Newsome indicated that the Ravens are working on the details of Cameron's contract without saying how long the terms would be.
"I always look at a body of work," Newsome said. "Are we headed in the right direction with this offense? And Steve [Bisciotti] has some unbelievable numbers that he just showed me that prove that we are headed in the right direction. Are we satisfied with where we are right now? No, but we think the best way to get there is to maintain the continuity of having Cam and then to bring in someone like [quarterbacks coach] Jim Caldwell to be another set of eyes with that."
The Ravens hired Caldwell, a former Indianapolis Colts head coach, to work with quarterback Joe Flacco,
"It's going to be the best thing for everybody, offensively, and just for the growth of our offense," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It's not so much Joe. Joe is a part of that, sure."
A year ago, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he liked Cameron "under fire."
A year later, Bisciotti expressed support for the oft-criticized offensive coordinator.
"It's not like we have a Triple-A system where those people are batting .400 and everybody knows that it's time to move them up to the big leagues," Bisciotti said regarding the churn of coordinators around the league. "To out and get a position coach and make him an offensive coordinator and find out that he wasn't better than what you had ... That's all I'm saying.
"I'm looking at these trends, and a logical businessman would say that we're making progress. So, I don't know if I have a message for that 10 percent of the fans with that vitriol. I just don't have an answer for them. I just don't. I'm sorry."
DEALING WITH MISTAKES: Although wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a potential game-tying field goal in the loss to the New England Patriots, Bisciotti said he's not holding a grudge against them.
"This is like watching your kids in high school play basketball," He said. "You don't scream at your neighbor's kid because he's not passing it enough. They become like sons to you, so you feel for them. You can't get mad. This business is about managing your mistakes and managing your failures. Inopportune things like that kill these guys, and I die with them.
"I don't lash out. You end up caring for these guys. You know how much time and effort they put in. It breaks your heart that somebody has got to be the goat, but if we had lost 35-10, then there'd be a lot of goats. It would be easier to spread the blame and the arrows wouldn't be pointing in one direction or another."
Ravens hire Martindale to coach linebackers
Two assistants join Pagano in Indianapolis
OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have hired former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale as their new inside linebackers coach.
Martindale replaces Dean Pees, who was promoted to defensive coordinator last week by coach John Harbaugh.
Martindale interviewed for the Oakland Raiders' head coaching job three years ago.
"Good coach," former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington said of Martindale.
Martindale has coached for the Raiders, Notre Dame, the University of Cincinnati, Defiance College and Western Kentucky, where Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, won a Division I-AA championship.
He also coached former Ravens linebacker Brad Jackson at Cincinnati, where John Harbaugh was an assistant coach.
"Love Wink," Jackson said in a text message. "Phenomenal."
Meanwhile, the Ravens lost two assistant coaches to the Indianapolis Colts where former Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is forming his staff.
That includes assistant special teams coach Marwan Maalouf joining the Colts as special teams coach and defensive assistant and former personnel assistant Roy Anderson heading to Indianapolis to coach the safeties.
Ravens: Bisciotti on moving training camp out of Westminster: ‘It's very bittersweet'
Cherishing the nostalgia of his youth when he attended the Baltimore Colts' training camps in Westminster, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti took it hard when the AFC North franchise opted to shift training camp from Carroll County to team headquarters.
The Ravens made that decision during the regular season after team officials, including coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and team president Dick Cass, made their recommendation to Bisciotti to no longer have camp in Westminster. And they cited the superior facilities, the collective bargaining agreement eliminating two-a-day practices and the convenience of preparing for the NFL season at their training complex in Owings Mills
"It's very, very bittersweet to have to come to the conclusion finally that it is in our best interest from a football perspective to do that here instead of Westminster," Bisciotti said Wednesday during a press conference.
Reaction to the move ranged from anger to disappointment when it was announced that the Ravens wouldn't be camping at McDaniel College next summer.
The Ravens have repeatedly said that they plan to conduct an open practice at M&T Bank Stadium, a potential football clinic in Westminster and find other ways to grant access to fans. Due to traffic, parking, insurance, lease and space issues, the Ravens aren't equipped to have large groups of fans to visit camp in Owings Mills.
"It's our job to get them comfortable with things that we do," Bisciotti said. "We talked about getting out there and making some open practices at the stadium and in some other places. I'd like to get one down to Annapolis; it's my neck of the woods. So, maybe we can talk with Navy and maybe get it down there in the summertime, which would be good. We can get you all down to McGarvey's and have some fun down there. It's our job to create that access."
Bisciotti is aware that times have changed significantly from the days when he would watch Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Tom Matte practice for the Colts and be assured of being granted a moment with his childhood heroes.
"It hurts me personally, and yet, the NFL is a different animal than it was when I was a little kid," Bisciotti said. "We didn't have fences in Westminster when I was a little kid. We got our pictures and our autographs from these guys by walking with them from the dorm to the practice field and then walking back.
"There might have been 200 kids there, and everybody got their time. I don't ever remember waiting in line to get my picture done with Raymond Berry. Now, you've got 1,000 people out there that are pushing and shoving, and it's not the kind of environment [it used to be].We'll take care of the tykes. We'll figure out a way to get some open practices and get the autographs and get that interaction."
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