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All is well in Ravenstown. That clearly was the overriding message delivered during the State of the Ravens Address by the organizationâ€™s most prominent managers, Bisciotti, Newsome and Billick.
Their body language both individually and collectively suggested poise, confidence and a singularity of purpose. The angst and lingering disappointment still felt by Ravensâ€™ fans after the bitter loss to the Colts was not evident amongst the trio.
"To have such expectations, to see what these guys go through to prepare to win, go 13-3, have a week off, then lose, then the whole thing falls apart in three hours, it’s obviously disappointingâ€, said owner Steve Bisciotti.
â€œI see how disappointed fans are. We put in work here, so it’s even more disappointing. I guess my feeling, the next couple days in explaining it to family and friends, I didn’t have that opportunity to be disappointed last year. We found ourselves at 4-9 and we’re playing out the string. I don’t know at what point that we realized that we weren’t. What were we? 3-7. There comes a time when early in the year, you know that you’re not a playoff-caliber team. There’s no one event. It was just a slow burn. So I guess if you’re going to be in this league for 40 years. I’d rather have this kind of disappointment.â€
Itâ€™s hard to argue with Bisciottiâ€™s logic yet as he points out, the expectation level made the end feel like a head on collision with the proverbial brick wall.
Yet itâ€™s time to move on. The organizational top dogs have and so should we. If the people whose livelihoods are judged by wins and losses can get over it, so can we.
But how do they do it?
The countless hours of preparation both physically and mentally that go into an NFL season â€“ a season with such promise, to have that brass ring within your grasp only to see it suddenly snatched away. How have they recovered so quickly?
Maybe they know something that we donâ€™t know.
Maybe they understand more than we do.
The experience of losing as they did can provide long term value. While listening to and observing these men, you got the feeling that they took a punch, survived a bloody nose and now they have a plan to counter that punch.
There was no evidence of panic or worry, just resolve and determination. No one seemed pressured to get it done in the 2007 season. No one seemed to be paying attention to the short-sighted vision of a few radio talking heads that grasp the salary cap the way a bus driver might master nuclear physiology.
The Ravens organization is a well oiled machine and they expect to smooth out the bumps normally associated with winning teams in the era of the salary cap and that comes from experience.
â€œFrom 2000 to 2001, we restructured a lot of contractsâ€, said Newsome. â€œWe decided that winning back-to-back Super Bowls [was] what this organization wanted to do. So, we put all our eggs into 2001. We thought the best decision was to go out and get a quarterback that could manufacture some offense for us, we went out and got a right tackle, and we basically mortgaged the future after that. We don’t plan to do that this time. We learned from that. But, we also became better drafters, and we don’t have the big disparity in our roster that we had in 2000-2001 either. Even though we might have 10 or 12 guys that are 30 and over, we’ve probably got 10 or 12 guys that are 21 or 22 that [are] already playing for us, so we’ve got a good balance there. That’s basically what we learned."
Balance is essential for teams in the salary cap era on and off the field. Maintaining it gives teams a chance to win each season. It keeps the window of opportunity open.
â€œWe’re not going to run this team with windows opening and closingâ€, claims Bisciotti. â€œOur goal is to figure out how to run this team so that that window never closes. I think that we’re getting closer to feeling confident that we can do that based on what we’re all learning about it, and actually getting the coaches involved in understanding the cap and the implications. Because coaches in these meetings just say ‘I can’t live without this guy. I can’t live without this guy. I can’t live without this guy.’ And yet every year we live without some of those guys, and we turn around and do well again.â€
Doing well again and again is something that is now synonymous with the New England Patriots. Ozzie Newsome is one of the few men in the NFL who regularly speaks with Bill Belichick. They share a long-standing bond and as a result itâ€™s no surprise to see the Ravens embracing a New England-style formula to sustain success.
But itâ€™s one thing to endorse such a strategy â€“ another thing to implement it.
The Patriots are married to their organization and not any one player. Theyâ€™ve been in the playoffs 5 of the last 6 seasons while winning 3 Super Bowls. On average the Pats have had the tenth best offense and the seventh best defense during their championship seasons and during those winning campaigns theyâ€™ve placed a modest number of players (11 in total) in the Pro Bowl.
Clearly this suggests that the Patriots prioritize the team instead of star power. They emphasize depth and balance versus dominance in any particular area. And to do what Bisciotti suggests, to keep those windows open, the Patriots havenâ€™t become emotionally attached to expensive, aging players that have reached or surpassed their athletic peaks.
Thatâ€™s why they donâ€™t blink when players like Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Deion Branch move on. Somehow, thereâ€™s little dip in productivity. They manage value. They promote balance.
Can the Ravens really do the same?
Time will tell but if body language is a guarantee to anything, the Ravens as an organization are headed down the right path. Their leaders who hosted the State of the Ravens Address certainly appear to have a handle on things and it seems that they are supremely confident that they will be back in the thick of it in â€™07.
The loss to the Colts hurt everyone. The team itself has moved on while the fans still wallow in the mire. The organization has a plan and they are already on it. Thereâ€™s no time for a pity party.
As fans we have to sit and wait for the plan to unfold.