OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens are running a football team, not a monastery.
The Ravens value character and take a careful look at players’ background before signing or drafting a player.
However, that scrutiny doesn’t mean they never take risks on players with a history of off-field problems.
"You’re not going to have 53 angels, and you probably wouldn’t have a very good team if you had 53 angels," Ravens principal owner Steve Bisciotti said during a state of the team press conference.
It will be instructive to observe how the Ravens operate in free agency when it comes to applying that principle.
Some of the top restricted free agents, including elite wide receivers like the Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall and the San Diego Chargers’ Vincent Jackson, have had repeated brushes with the law.
Marshall has been arrested for domestic violence, and Jackson has been convicted once of driving under the influence and is currently facing a second DUI charge and a driving with a suspended license charge.
Marshall also clashed with coach Josh McDaniels and team management this past season.
With the hefty investment of draft picks and exorbitant contracts for players like Marshall or Jackson, the Ravens will tread carefully.
That doesn’t mean they will always avoid risks.
"I’m probably the biggest risk taker," said Bisciotti while referring to team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh. "I like the fact that these guys care about our image, and they pull me back from the rail, because I’m ready to take chances on people. I really am. I think that’s kind of what life is about, and I think there are opportunities like that."
Bisciotti indicated that Cass was the least inclined to take a chance on a troubled player.
And the owner referenced the Ravens’ trade with the San Francisco 49ers years ago for controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens, which was ultimately nullified.
What concerns Bisciotti the most isn’t one issue. When a player doesn’t learn from his mistakes and is a magnet for trouble is when the Ravens tend to cross a player off their list.
"I think the kind of problems that they’ve had matter more," Bisciotti said. "Certainly, the repeat problems you better avoid. I don’t think that mistakes are necessarily a sign of poor character. I think repeating mistakes is the closest sign to bad character that you can look at."
The New England Patriots have had success with players who found trouble in other NFL cities, including wide receiver Randy Moss and running back Corey Dillon.
"I think there are opportunities like that," Bisciotti said. "I hope we’re in a position someday where someone wants to dump a Randy Moss for a fourth-round draft pick, because I’ll be in there saying, ‘We’ve got to take a chance.’ It’s about what you have to lose if that person fails you. So, I think it’s risk and return."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was on the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff when Owens had his infamous clashes with teammates, coaches and management, including his notable feud with quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles would up suspending Owens for conduct detrimental to the team before releasing him.
Owens is an unrestricted free agent again this year after catching 55 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns last season for the Buffalo Bills. His game has diminished, as he’s still prone to dropped passes, and he’s 36 years old.
Harbaugh said he’s not opposed to giving a player a second chance.
"I think it goes down to risk and reward," Harbaugh said. "In our conversations, I don’t know if we’ve ever discussed a guy that we just said, ‘We want no part of this guy.’ I can’t remember a guy we’ve talked about in the last two years that we said that about. So, it just becomes how much do you risk, how much do you take away from other opportunities to build your team for this guy?
"If you’ve put a lot into this guy, a first-round pick, two first picks, a first and a third, for a really good player on your team, and you lose those two picks, and you bring this guy in, and then he doesn’t produce for you because he messed up and makes a mistake, now you become a worse team. If the reward matches the risk, you kind of balance it out, and you take a shot."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.