Two weeks after the Ravens suffered the cruelest of playoff losses, owner Steve Bisciotti gave the team's 13-4 season his personal stamp of success.
As bad as the loss to the Indianapolis Colts was, Bisciotti found a silver lining through his disappointment. In so many words, he said yesterday that he'll handle defeats like the one in the divisional playoff round as long as they're in close proximity to Super Bowl victories.
"I'm hoping I feel this disappointment every year that I don't win a Super Bowl," Bisciotti said during a season-ending news conference. "That would be nice. I've got to learn to live with that terrible feeling I had after we lost to the Colts because it means that you're a competitive team."
Despite what some see as a narrowing window of Super Bowl opportunity for the Ravens, Bisciotti's vision calls for a smoother ride and no more 6-10 roller-coaster dips.
It may not be a new paradigm for the team, but he described a future without salary cap purges.
"We're not going to run this team with windows opening and closing," Bisciotti said. "Our goal is to figure out how to run this team so that that window never closes. I think we're getting closer to feeling confident we can do that based on what we're all learning about it."
Ozzie Newsome, the team's general manager, seconded that ambition. Newsome said he won't repeat the mistakes the Ravens made after winning the Super Bowl in the 2000 season.
"From 2000 to 2001, we restructured a lot of contracts and we decided that winning back-to-back Super Bowls was what this organization wanted to do," Newsome said. "So we put all our eggs into 2001. We thought the best decision was to go out and get a quarterback that could manufacture some offense for us. We went out and got a right tackle, and we basically mortgaged the future after that.
"We don't plan to do that this time."
After winning the Super Bowl under then-majority owner Art Modell, the Ravens splurged on free-agent quarterback Elvis Grbac and Pro Bowl right tackle Leon Searcy. Grbac was a major disappointment, Searcy got hurt and after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, the Ravens had to gut their roster because of salary cap ramifications.
That history is worth remembering when the Ravens address the seven players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 2, among them linebacker Adalius Thomas.
Although the salary cap is expected to jump some $7 million from the ceiling of $102 million per team in 2006, the Ravens are believed to be near the bottom of the league in cap space for 2007 with less than $10 million available.
Newsome characterized the team's cap situation only as "OK" and said that Bisciotti and team president Dick Cass were involved in talks on keeping and losing players.
Newsome stepped lightly through the field of possible defections. He said management would begin soon to talk about strategy on Thomas, who could get a franchise tag in the neighborhood of $7 million.
Despite wide receiver Derrick Mason's discontent with his role in the offense this year, Newsome insisted that the 10-year veteran "has a future with this ballclub."
He stopped far short of that with running back Jamal Lewis, who almost certainly won't receive a $5 million bonus due in March on a contract he signed last year.
Newsome also said he has begun to contemplate a successor to quarterback Steve McNair, who started 16 regular-season games in 2006 for the first time in four years.
Whether McNair plays two or three more years, Newsome knows he must find the next Ravens quarterback. He said it could still be Kyle Boller, the 2003 first-round draft pick; a pick in the next two drafts; or a player on someone else's roster.
The Ravens' ultimate goal is not just to be a perennial Super Bowl contender, but to win the right way.
"If we had 13 people arrested this year and we were 13-3, then I wouldn't consider it a success because I wouldn't be happy," Bisciotti said. "I want to be happy because we're winning, but I also want to present a product that we can be proud of as an organization and a community."