Tue., Jan. 30: Bisciotti, Newsome Sound Positive Notes
By Joe Platania
Tuesday, January 30 -- What a difference a year makes.
One year ago, the Ravens' annual state-of-the-team press conference was an hour-long referendum on the public behavior and personal style of head coach Brian Billick.
Tuesday afternoon, an hour and 15 minutes before this year's "Where The Heck Do We Go From Here?" session began, majority owner Steve Bisciotti climbed into his car and left the premises.
In keeping with his laid-back, ultra-smooth image, Bisciotti cruised back to the Palace at Owings Mills in plenty of time.
No pressure, no contention, no problems... not even for a team that, after posting a franchise-record 13-win season, was expected to at least reach the Super Bowl, if not win it.
In fact, Bisciotti, Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome did not even begin their offseason staff meetings until Tuesday morning, which explains the lack of movement on many pending contract issues involving players such as running back Jamal Lewis, linebacker Adalius Thomas and others.
"I think we were emotionally spent (after the playoff loss to Indianapolis)," Newsome said. "We needed to get away from it for a couple of weeks."
But once the team brass reconvened, the stunning, sudden Divisional Playoff loss to the Colts was but a memory and a look at the big picture -- keynoted by the ever-calm Bisciotti -- was the order of the day.
"I don't have any concerns," Bisciotti said. "I've been here in some capacity for seven years and I think the organization is sound. I'm very comfortable going forward. I don't have anything to worry about.
"Maybe when injuries set in in August and September, I'll have a worry. I said at the beginning of last year that we could compete from a health standpoint, and we did.
"We can compete with the best teams in the NFL."
After a second division title in four years, that much is certain.
This time of year, with free agency starting March 2 and the draft in late April, the question is: can the Ravens continue to compete?
Can they win Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona in what was characterized a year ago by team president Dick Cass as the second of a two-season window of opportunity?
One way for the Ravens to approach that question, according to Bisciotti, is for the organization to rid itself of the idea of having salary-cap driven windows of opportunity, leaving the team vulnerable to wildly-fluctuating fortunes.
"We're not going to run this team with windows that open and close," Bisciotti said. "We want to run the kind of team where the window never closes."
That means the Ravens are going to have to address certain key issues involving players already on the roster before they decide how many newcomers to bring in through free agency and the draft. Billick has already indicated the team may not have a huge free-agency presence, so this is a paramount point.
For instance, running back Jamal Lewis could be a salary-cap dump after a rather unspectacular 1132-yard season that did not see him regain the burst for which he became known his first four seasons in the league.
The Ravens' running game ranked 25th in the 32-team league.
"A decision will be made on his case in about three to four weeks," said Newsome, who also indicated Lewis has had offseason ankle surgery.
In an exclusive interview with PressBox last Friday, linebacker Adalius Thomas -- the most high-profile of the team's seven unrestricted-free-agents-to-be -- mentioned that contract talks with the team had not yet begun.
Despite other published reports that preliminary talks had been held between the team and Thomas' agent, James "Bus" Cook, Newsome confirmed that no talks have taken place at all with free agency a month away and the franchise-tag deadline looming on February 22.
"We want to give Brian Billick as many good players as we can," Newsome said of the Thomas dilemma. "But we won't jeopardize Steve Bisciotti's franchise by overdoing it."
Newsome alluded to the team's approach following the 2000 Super Bowl-winning campaign, in which it restructured and backloaded many veteran contracts in an effort to win back-to-back titles in 2001.
After earning a wild-card berth and beating Miami in a wild-card game, the Ravens were denied a chance to defend their title by losing at Pittsburgh in the Divisional Playoffs.
"We put all our eggs in 2001," Newsome recalled. "We mortgaged the future, and we don't plan on doing that this time."
Another instance in which the Ravens seemingly couldn't handle prosperity followed their 2003 AFC North Division-winning season, which ended with a home wild-card loss to Tennessee.
"We thought we were ready (to take the next step)," Newsome said. "We thought we would come out the next year and be in the playoffs. But we found it wasn't that easy."
Two straight underachieving seasons followed as the team's ownership transitioned from Art Modell to Bisciotti. This year's success gave the new owner quite a perspective on dealing with the end of a season.
"I've experienced it," Bisciotti said. "And it's a horrible feeling. I had never experienced terrible disappointment before, but that's because we weren't competitive."
However, the Ravens did put themselves into the NFL's elite in 2006, and they expected to go further.
If they do, the brass will march into next winter's media session marveling... at what a difference a year made.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: With a few days left before the Super Bowl, here's yet another chance to test your knowledge of America's biggest sporting event.
To refresh your memory, we're not giving away anything except a big cyber-pat on the back.
Can you name the obscure quarterback who became the first player in Super Bowl history to advance to five consecutive Super Bowls?
YES, BART'S GOING: There seemed to be a bit of confusion over whether linebacker Ray Lewis was going to his eighth Pro Bowl or Bart Scott was flying to his first Hawaii game.
An NFL Network report seemed to indicate that due to an injured thumb, Lewis, a first alternate at linebacker, would forgo his Hawaii trip and that Scott would go in his place.
However, the Ravens last week issued an official communique stating that Lewis would indeed head to Honolulu, including the following quote from the perennial All-Pro.
“It’s always a privilege to be voted in to the Pro Bowl, especially when your peers have a voice,” said Lewis. “I think this recognizes what great team defense we played this year with myself, Adalius (Thomas), Chris (McAlister), Terrell (Suggs) and Ed (Reed) representing our team and our city in Hawaii.
"It is exciting to think about coming back and doing it all again next year with those same guys. This league is built on respect, and I truly appreciate the respect from the guys that challenge you every week. I dreamed of many things as a child, but eight Pro Bowls in 11 years, I am truly blessed.
"I want to thank all of our fans and everyone who supports us.”
Lewis posted a team-high 164 tackles, leading the team in stops for the ninth time in his career despite missing two games. He had 23 total tackles in the 15-6 Divisional Playoff loss to Indianapolis.
But instead, it will be Scott -- and not Lewis -- who will make the trip, giving the Ravens a total of six Pro Bowl selectees at the game February 10.
It's noteworthy that because Lewis' initial s