This past Friday, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti stood alone at the podium to answer questions from the media about the 2017 season and the future of the team.
The annual event usually takes place shortly after the season is over and typically involves team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. But not this year.
"Because I wanted to, and I needed it," Bisciotti said.
The Ravens' season ended on a fourth-and-12 against the Cinncinati Bengals, leaving the team to miss the playoffs for a third year in a row, causing the owner to need time to reflect.
Bisciotti took questions for about an hour, hitting on everything from why there were no coaching changes, the 2018 NFL draft and the effects of kneeling during the national anthem while in London.
Here are a few of the biggest takeaways.
Why there were no coaching changes:
Bisciotti said firing head coach John Harbaugh was definitely a thought, but he was not inclined to make the decision this year.
"I was very proud of the way John kept fighting and held the team together when we were losing in the middle of the year," Bisciotti said. "Joe [Flacco] was obviously producing at sub-standard [levels] with his back injury, and after the first couple of weeks, obviously, we were very encouraged by our defense and thought that could hold us together."
After missing the playoffs three straight years and not evolving on offense, fans were upset when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg remained a part of the coaching staff.
So why keep him?
"We’ve gone through four offensive coordinators in the last five years, and Joe [Flacco] was comfortable with his relationship with Marty, and they produced in the second half of the year," Bisciotti said. "So, when John [Harbaugh] wanted to keep him, then I backed him."
"I’m not going to give a ‘playoff or bust’ edict to you all, or to my coach. He’s under as much pressure, probably, than he’s ever been in his life, and I expect him to keep his chin up and take his positivity and his talents and make the most of this season. I may as well replace him now if I’m going to tell him, ‘Make the playoffs or you’re out of town next year.’ That’s just not the way to run a business.”
Ozzie Newsome stepping down as GM:
And of course came the news of Ozzie Newsome stepping down as GM after 2018 and assistant GM Eric DeCosta transitioning into the position, a plan that's been in place over the last five years.
"We had talked after the 2013 season, and it was about Eric [DeCosta], and Ozzie agreed to re-do his contract for a five-year extension, in which case, he would turn over the 53-man roster to Eric, and that’s a year away."
If the organization has thought about life after Joe:
Flacco's 2018 season had its up and downs while the 33-year old dealt with a herniated disk, leaving many to wonder if is it time to start looking for his successor? For Bisciotti, the team is a long way off from worrying about Joe.
“I think that you can think about life after Joe, but most of the franchise quarterbacks … I don’t know of any franchise quarterbacks that are retiring at 33, 34, 35 anymore – none of them, Bisciotti said." He later went on to say, "So no, that’s not really something that we’re worried about right now. We’ve got bigger fish to fry, I guess. I don’t consider that a big worry."
How the organization plans to reengage fans:
Seeing a plethora of open purple seats at M&T Bank Stadium throughout the season sparked concern for the Ravens in 2017. A mediocre record, lack of young, exciting talent and the team protesting during the national anthem in London all were contributing factors to this dilemma. It was even something team President Dick Cass addressed in a letter to season ticket holders toward the end of the season.
So in 2018, how does the team plan on reigniting the fans' flame? Bisciotti said it's one of the teams' biggest concerns.
"...But winning is key, and if we start winning and making the playoffs and we still have a problem … The problem is throughout the NFL, it’s not just here," Bisciotti said. "So, am I disappointed in it? Yes, I’m disappointed in it. Concerned? Yes. If winning is what we need to do to fill the stadium up, then that’s part and parcel with why we’re here. We’re here to win games, we’re here to succeed, and when we fail, the no-shows are a way of telling us that our fans aren’t pleased. So, we’ve got to win. And I hope that solves the majority of the problems.”
How he would have handled the national anthem protests differently:
It was one NFL biggest stories of 2017 and the Ravens were a part of the narrative. The organization recieved much critcsim after members of the team kneeled during the national anthem while playing the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, Engalnd.
The Ravens' decision to do so was in response to a tweet from President Donald Trump in which he encouraged owners to fire players that knelt during the national anthem.
Bisciotti understands why fans were upset but also understands where his players were coming from. In the end, he wishes the league and himself would have handled the situation differently.
“Well, I do think it’s significant, and I do think that it hurt and insulted a lot of our fan base," Bisciotti said. "And I understand that, but I also am supportive of my players. I wish I would have known about it the night before. Would I have gone to the meeting and given my two cents? I probably would have. And I may have been successful, because I got to talk to guys like Terrell Suggs, and I talked to Ben Watson on the field 30 or 45 minutes before the game. I had a one-minute conversation with each of them. There was no time for me to tell them what I thought and what I thought would be an opportunity for them to look for an alternative. So, I’m not pleased with it. But again, it’s going on throughout the league, so I don’t know if that affected attendance everywhere else. I’m not going to put that on our attendance, because we were talking about attendance last year. So, I just am not going to say that that is the main issue."
"I’m a little disappointed that the league wasn’t proactive on that issue," Bisciotti said. "I would’ve liked to have seen them [be more proactive], and I wish the players had gone to the league before this season started, because I think that we could have possibly come up with better solutions than that. Regardless of the fact that it’s constitutionally protected, it’s still insulting to a lot of Americans. And so, I sure wish that we had done a better job of dealing with that issue in the  offseason. That’s a regret that I’ll always have.”
How the organization plans to address lack of offensive firepower:
Much of the Ravens' inability to win games this season was due in part to the lack of weapons Flacco had at receiver. 2015 first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman has not lived up to his potential and Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace aren't exactly long-term options. That will all hopefully change in 2018 as the team plans on changing this narrative.
"I think that there is a really good chance that we won’t be drafting a defensive tackle in the first round," Bisciotti said. "We will be exploring all options in free agency and in the draft for targets for Joe [Flacco]."
Bisciotti's overall view of the organization after 2017:
Bisciotti got real for a moment when asked about the morale and success of the team over the last few seasons. For him, the Ravens are still showing movement and progression.
"I don’t think we’re stagnant at 1 Winning Drive," Bisciotti said. "I think we are as enthused as we’ve always been. Disappointed, embarrassed and determined – but not stagnant.”
"We’re literally looking at a few moments of time that went against us, versus the crazy things that went for us in the Super Bowl year. We’re living with fourth-and-12 now. We used to live with fourth-and-29. So, we’re living with the Bengals doing that to us, instead of Jacoby Jones doing it to Denver. We’re not talking about 4-12 seasons here. We’re talking about a franchise quarterback that had a herniated disc and was not healthy for the first half of the year. There are a couple games that we should have won, that we wouldn’t have been sitting there. We might’ve been resting our starters against Cincinnati, and that’s our goal next year.”
And the hottest question in the NFL right now; What is a catch?:
“Stupid," Bisciotti said. "The whole thing is stupid."
"I think sometimes things have to get really, really bad before there is change. I bet you that there is going to be a significant change in that. A football move? I mean, how you can catch the ball, get both feet down, turn towards the end zone and start diving for it, and they say it’s not a football move? No. It’s stupid.”
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