ORLANDO, Fla. — As the NFL approaches a critical time in league history with labor strife capturing offseason headlines following the owners opting out of the collective bargaining agreement, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is maintaining a moderate approach. He predicts a deal will be struck in time for the regular season.
Bisciotti, who’s on the broadcasting committee, not the labor committee that’s negotiating with the players’ union, conducted an interview with the 24×7 on Tuesday in between meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, hitting on several topics.
Q: Do you anticipate there being NFL games in 2011?
A: I think both sides recognize that there’s a lot to lose. This is somewhat anticlimactic because we had to opt out of the deal. There’s going to be progress made, but it’s going to be very slow progress from here until March. I would be really happy if we got it done before we have to officially lock out. The reality is we have to officially lock out before free agency in March of next year and we’re not in jeopardy of missing a game until six months after that. So, unfortunately when we look at that from a negotiating standpoint, there’s a likelihood that it won’t be done until March. I believe it will be done by September. I’m very optimistic it will be done before we miss games. I think we’ll be hard-pressed to get a deal in March of next year because of the lack of sense of urgency.
Q: How do you feel like you’ve grown as an owner since taking over for Art Modell?
A: I’m very fortunate that when Roger Goodell became commissioner, I had been interested in the broadcast committee. I think the two major committees are broadcast and labor and I’m a salesman at heart and by trade. I like the revenue-generating side, which is the broadcast committee. I’ve been on that now for three years. I’m also on the digital media committee. I’m a novice when it comes to that. I’m not very techno-savvy, but I’m very interested in the issues with the digital media committee. I’m enjoying those more than general session stuff. I like those meetings more.
Q: What’s the thinking regarding director of player personnel Eric DeCosta after he withdrew his name from the Seattle Seahawks’ general manager search and his status as a potential successor to general manager Ozzie Newsome?
A: This is not new because we had Phil Savage in the same position years ago and we were faced with the same thing and, at the time, I just said to Ozzie that I didn’t want to end up losing both of them in a few-year period. All I asked Ozzie was if you want to stay long-term we’re going to ultimately lose Phil because someone is going to give him an opportunity. Fortunately and unfortunately, we’re in the same position. I wouldn’t be happy if Ozzie said he was ready to leave in two or three years and I couldn’t guarantee Eric something. So, right now, Ozzie is happy in his job, plans on staying a long time and we will talk to Eric and try to build in some incentives to make it even more palatable to him and reward that patience. I built my other business and the people that are running that business today are young people that I hired in the late ’80s. I have a lot of experience with promoting from within and I would like nothing more than for Eric to be patient enough and interested enough in staying. I think we’ve got a well-run organization. I think things are pretty smooth. I think he sees that. It’s just a matter of is a perfect job going to come available while Ozzie still has five-plus years on the clock and really that’s what we’re trying to do is limit our exposure that there’s only a couple of jobs out there that Eric would leave for. If he stays and takes over Ozzie’s responsibilities, five, 10 years from now, it would be great for me. It would be great for Baltimore.
Q: What’s your take on your decision to give John Harbaugh his first head coaching job after consecutive playoff appearances?
Ai: I couldn’t be happier. I think Baltimore sees what we saw during the interviews with him. He’s very personable. He’s very honest and he’s very fair. I think people like working for him. I think he’s got the qualities and the instincts of a leader. I think he’s showing that.
Q: Is a contract extension your plan for John Harbaugh as he enters the third year of a four-year deal?
A: Yeah, this time next year, we’ll get it done. We won’t send him into the season on the last year of a contract.
Q: With the Ravens’ latest contract to hold training camp in Westminster at McDaniel College set to expire after this summer, what’s the team’s take on renewing the agreement for the future?
A: We have no intention of leaving. We love it out there. John Harbaugh has embraced it. It works for our fans, the availability is great. Our experience out there is fantastic. I certainly don’t see any problems in extending.
Q: What’s the feeling about Terrell Suggs participating in the offseason training program coming off a rough season where he battled injuries and conditioning issues?
A: He’s a dedicated guy. He loves the game of football. I think to have him around is going to benefit him and the team. He’s a spirited guy. Terrell’s never in a bad mood. He brings a lot of levity to the practices. He’s a fun guy. We lost some great personalities in Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas and we’re not going to lose Terrell anytime soon.
Q: Do you feel confident that Haloti Ngata will eventually be signed to a long-term contract extension?
A: Absolutely. He’s definitely a cornerstone of our franchise. I have all the faith in the world that will be the next big deal we end up doing.
Q: What do you like about Joe Flacco’s approach to the game?
A: I couldn’t be happier. Once you assess talent, our guys are great at doing that, I think assessing the man is something that comes in those first couple of years. I think Baltimore is very lucky to have him. He is just a very dedicated football player. That’s the only thing that matters to him. He really wants to be the best. I don’t think Joe is happy to be one of the top 10 quarterbacks. I think Joe has visions of being the best and he puts the work in and I think that if there was any question about his leadership because of his quiet demeanor it’s been answered in the last couple of years.
Q: What are your thoughts on the additions at wide receiver with Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth and re-signing Derrick Mason?
A: I think that puts Ozzie, as good as he is, I think it puts him in the best position to succeed. That way the best player available that he talks about is real. I’ve watched 10 drafts now and I go back to an Ed Reed. I don’t think safety was necessarily the No. 1 position people were targeting and yet he took Ed Reed and look at what we got. I always like it when we don’t have a glaring need and we have the opportunity for Ozzie to work that draft to our advantage.
Q: What’s the feeling about the decision last year to sign Ray Lewis to a new contract that should allow him to retire in Baltimore?
A: Again, it was a big decision to give a long-term contract to a 34-year-old. So, there’s a lot of personal satisfaction, organizational satisfaction that he proved he was worth every penny of it. He’ll go down in history as one of the greatest leaders of all-time and we’re very glad that we’re getting production with the leadership. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him playing like when you see guys like Junior Seau still contribute to teams when they’re 40. Ray is going to be contributing to this team potentially right up to 40 years old.
Q: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
A: Just watching the team function properly. I think that we have the continuity the Modell’s have and I was able to maintain and see it turn into a football team that people have high expectations for. As a competitor, you can’t shy away from high expectations. That’s what you’re trying to do. With that, comes more pressure. That really is the enjoyable part for me. I think we’ve made enough moves internally and externally to put ourselves in a position to win for a long period of time.
Q: What do you think of your 2010 outlook as a team that’s going to carry high expectations?
A: That’s what you fight for, to be part of the conversation. That’s our goal. I think we’re well-positioned to stay at the top of the NFL and kind of take that next step. A well-run team that consistently wins makes for a very happy Baltimore, and you ultimately are measured by your championships. Baltimore has a nice tradition of championships and it’s getting time that we put another one on the mantle.
Q: How are the Ravens doing from a business standpoint in terms of merchandising and sponsorships and suite sales?
A: I think that we’re sustaining. I’m very proud of our staff. We’re not getting increases in sponsorships, but we’re not losing them. I’m very proud of the work that we do and I’m very proud of our sponsors for staying with us. These are tough economic times and they are stepping up as great partners and keeping us in a position where we’re not at a disadvantage to compete.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital