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Five Questions Steve Bisciotti Can Expect At Ravens' News Conference

February 1, 2018
With the Ravens' organization at a crossroads, owner Steve Bisciotti will meet with the media on Feb. 2 in a highly anticipated news conference.

The Ravens missed the playoffs for the third straight season -- finishing 9-7 after a shocking, last-minute collapse against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale -- and fan disenchantment is as high as it has been in the team's 22-year history.

In previous "State of the Ravens" postseason news conferences, Bisciotti has shared the podium with head coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and team president Dick Cass. But this year, Bisciotti will be at the microphone by himself. 

Bisciotti generally defers to Newsome on the roster-building process, and it's unfortunate Newsome won't be on hand to answer those questions. But here are five organizational questions Bisciotti can expect to get:

1. Have season-ticket renewals dropped appreciably, and how does the team intend to win back disenchanted fans?

Fans spoke with their feet this fall, staying away from M&T Bank Stadium by the thousands late in the season. To be sure, a bitterly cold New Year's Eve game that was flexed to late afternoon complicated plans for many fans, but it was still stunning to see thousands of empty seats for the regular-season finale with a playoff berth on the line. But swaths of seats were empty at several other games as well.

Uneven, uninspiring play was only part of the issue. Many fans were angered when several Ravens knelt during the national anthem before the team's game at Wembley Stadium in London, part of what grew into a league-wide player protest over comments made by President Trump. 
The organization noticed all the empty seats, with Cass taking the unusual step of sending a letter to personal-seat license holders in December acknowledging the issue.

"We have had a significant number of no-shows in the past when our play on the field has not met the high standard we and you have set for the Ravens," Cass wrote. "But this year has been different. The numbers are higher, and it is noticeable. There are a number of reasons for the no-shows, but surely the one-time protest in London has been a factor."

What, in Bisciotti's opinion, are the critical steps to bringing disenchanted fans back into the fold?

2. You have often stressed continuity within the organization. But how long will you continue to maintain the status quo in the wake of mediocrity?

At the "State of the Ravens" news conference after the 2015 season, Bisciotti said: "If you go through the league, the winning teams are the ones who have the least turnover in their front office and their coaching staff." 

But since winning their second Super Bowl title in the 2012 season, the Ravens have gone 40-40 and have reached the playoffs once in five seasons. The Ravens have lost several key talent evaluators -- some of which are at the Super Bowl this week as members of the Philadelphia Eagles' front office -- but the key players at the top of the organization -- Newsome, Harbaugh, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, have remained in place, as has the bulk of the coaching staff.

Harbaugh signed a contract extension before the start of this past season, which runs through 2019. But is he entering a playoffs-or-else season? Will the continuity message change if the team misses the playoffs yet again in 2018 and if the number of empty seats continues to grow?

3. Did you personally agree with the organization's one-sided emphasis on building up the defense last spring? 

Bisciotti is in the war room during the draft, but he defers to Newsome and his staff when it comes to building the roster. Last spring, the team poured resources into its defense with free agency and the draft, re-signing defensive tackle Brandon Williams, signing free-agent defensive backs Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson and selecting defensive players with their first four draft picks.

The offense was virtually ignored in the draft. For the first time in team history, the Ravens did not draft any offensive skill position players. Their only offensive draft picks were Day 3 linemen Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor.

The Ravens' offense, devoid of playmakers, sputtered for much of the season, ranking last in the league at times. (They finished 27th overall, 11th in rushing, 29th in passing and last in passing yards per play.)

In hindsight, does Bisciotti personally see that roster strategy as a mistake? And what was his reaction as the defense, the beneficiary of so much offseason largesse, wilted when it mattered most?

4. At last year's "State of the Ravens" address, you said, "We've seen a better Joe Flacco in the past.  ... We need to get more out of Joe." In your opinion, did that happen? And is the organization preparing for life after Flacco?

At various news conferences last year, Harbaugh, Bisciotti and others stressed the need to add players to support Flacco, which made the organizational decision to ignore the offense much of last spring all the more questionable. 

The Ravens did make two offensive free-agent acquisitions in running back Danny Woodhead and receiver Jeremy Maclin, though Maclin was signed in June after being a surprise cut by the Kansas City Chiefs, and neither player lived up to expectation. 

Flacco missed all of training camp with a back injury, and his play was inconsistent for much of the season. He closed the season well, with nine touchdowns and two interceptions during the final six games.

Flacco, who turned 33 in January, has a cap figure of roughly $24.7 million this season, with more than $28 million in dead money this year. So inconsistent play or not, he's not going anywhere. Flacco has $16 million in dead money next year, and $8 million the following year, when moving on from him becomes more amenable. 

Are the Ravens envisioning the time when Flacco is no longer the quarterback, and are they prepared to use a high draft pick on a quarterback this season, which would probably mean getting little to nothing from an early-round draft pick this year assuming Flacco is on the field?

5. To what extent do you think the Ravens' limited salary-cap flexibility is to blame for the team's struggles during the past five years, and how much have early-round failures such as Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and Breshad Perriman played a role in that?

Again this year, the Ravens are entering the roster-building stage with limited cap space. (The 2018 cap is not yet set.)

Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Williams together comprise roughly 30 percent of the team's cap space, according to Spotrac, which monitors player contracts. That certainly has played a role in limiting the Ravens' options, but so too have early-round misses in the draft.

Elam, for example, never played up to his first-round status, meaning the Ravens had to spend money on a free-agent safety such as Eric Weddle, paying much more on the open market than they would have been paying Elam on his rookie deal. 

Brown, Terrence Brooks, Perriman and Maxx Williams are other early-round draft picks who have not delivered, requiring the Ravens to spend limited resources to fill those voids, either via free agency or other high draft picks. As those players painfully illustrate, missing on early-round draft picks can reverberate on the field and in the wallet for several years.

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka    

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