Many of the 12,403 fans who attended yesterday's Spring Football Festival left with autographs, a behind-the-scenes look at M&T Bank Stadium and an insight into the future of the Ravens.
In a question and answer session with fans, team president Dick Cass estimated the Ravens' window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl is two years.
Although the Ravens have always adhered to league rules by being under the salary cap, they have gone $10 million above it the past three seasons in terms of bonuses to sign players. According to Cass, the overspending won't catch up to the Ravens until 2008, when cap issues likely will force them to rebuild again.
"When you go over the cap for three years like we have, we probably can only go one more year," Cass said. "Unless we restructure contracts, we won't be in a situation in '08 that we were in '02 - but it will be tight."
In 2002, the Ravens had to gut their roster of 11 starters because they were $20 million over the cap.
The Ravens have since restocked the team by exceeding the cap by $10 million in bonuses in 2004 and 2005. This year, the Ravens are projected to go over the cap by $15 million to $18 million.
That's the price to pay when a team adds valuable veterans such as receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle and extends the contracts of tight end Todd Heap and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.
The impact of signing bonuses is delayed because they are prorated over the length of the deal.
"In terms of cash out of pocket, we're spending as much as any team in the league," Cass said.
The Ravens rank 13th among NFL teams in total revenue, an unenviable situation these days. Under the league's new collective bargaining agreement, the league's top 15 teams in revenue each year now must contribute to a pool redistributed to the 17 teams at the bottom of the scale.
At the middle tier, the Ravens will contribute $1 million. Cass said the Ravens likely will drop out of the top 15 once other teams build new stadiums.
In his half-hour talk with fans, Cass discussed the disadvantages the team will face in the future in trying to generate revenue.
The Ravens' television and radio market ranks 24th. Their sponsorship revenue is limited because there is only one Fortune 500 company in the metropolitan area (Constellation Energy). And their fan base has limited growth potential because the Ravens are squeezed in between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Working in the Ravens' favor, Cass says, is owner Steve Bisciotti.
"He is not an owner who has to make a living out of this team. We have an owner who has enough resources," Cass said. "Whenever it gets tough, we have someone who can step up and make it happen."
Notes -- Coach Brian Billick did not make his scheduled appearance because of a family matter, a team spokesman said. ... It was the first public appearance for Cass since he donated a kidney to a longtime friend from law school two weeks ago. ... Undrafted rookie cornerback Ronnie Prude got an unfriendly welcome when walking onto the field for the first time. He was booed by the crowd for wearing a New York Yankees hat.