Bisciotti's tipping his hand might have Newsome slapping his head

January 23, 2009|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome won't have owner Steve Bisciotti as his card-playing partner anytime soon.

For the second time in a year, Bisciotti has played his hand way too early in the coming negotiations with middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who just completed the final season of a six-year contract.

In March, Bisciotti said he expected the Ravens to outbid other teams for the services of Lewis. And Wednesday, Bisciotti said he didn't foresee the Ravens using the franchise tag on Lewis.


That was interesting because Newsome, in preliminary talks before the season started, has already let Lewis' side know the general manager could use the designation on Lewis. It's the trump card the Ravens don't want to play, but it's nice to have that ace up their sleeve.

Fortunately, Bisciotti has said Newsome will handle the negotiations, which could begin as early as next week, when the Ravens start their player-evaluation meetings.

"Let's just hope that it doesn't get to that point," Newsome said of using the tag. "All I can say is that we have a process in place, and we also have a history of retaining our top players.

"In other cases, there is also a process in place where we allow free agents to test the market and then they can get back to us. We just have to see how these things play out."

Bisciotti should stay out of the negotiations. And what's this about Lewis giving the Ravens a hometown discount?

Since his rookie season, Lewis has re-signed his contract five times, getting upfront or "guaranteed" money from the organization, more than any other player.

The last one, signed in 2003, was supposed to be the final one, which would allow him to retire as a Raven.

Never once did Lewis give the Ravens a hometown discount.

Hometown discount? Now, that's funny.

Winning is everything

The Ravens' head coaching position has undergone a complete evolution, and they finally have a true football coach in John Harbaugh.

Both of Harbaugh's predecessors, Ted Marchibroda and Brian Billick, were good coaches, but they were brought in for other reasons in addition to winning football games.

Marchibroda, who was with the Ravens from 1996 through 1998, had experience. With his easygoing style, he could make the transition of moving from Cleveland to Baltimore smooth even though he had no chance of winning because of the Browns' financial situation.

The Ravens also knew Baltimore fans would be patient with Marchibroda because of his success here with the Colts in the mid- to late 1970s.

Billick was brought here to become the face of the franchise - and to sell tickets. He had the reputation as an offensive genius with incredible organizational skills. His public relations background and motivational speeches made him the perfect marketing tool for the team.

With Harbaugh, it's all about football. He isn't here to bridge generations or sell tickets. He's just a football coach. There are no pretenses and no big words, just a football pedigree.

At times, it's almost boring covering him because he has only one mission compared with the others who came before him. In the words of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, Harbaugh needs to just win, baby.

Next man up

If Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis becomes Cleveland's general manager, look for assistant director Vince Newsome to replace Kokinis.

Director of college scouting Eric DeCosta could also get a promotion and become No. 2 in the personnel chain behind Ozzie Newsome.

"We have a plan in place that if we lose George, everything will come from within," Ozzie Newsome said, "sort of like when we lost James Harris and we elevated Phil Savage and George Kokinis."

Scott to test waters

Unless the Ravens offer inside linebacker Bart Scott a contract that blows him out of the water - and they won't - he'll test the free-agent market.

Scott had a good year and is one of the team's leaders on defense, but he is no big fan of Harbaugh's and his tough-guy approach. Look for Scott to see whether he can make big money elsewhere, and he probably can.

If not, he might end up back in Baltimore, and the Ravens would welcome him because he fits perfectly into their scheme.

A question of QBs

If you're trying to find the major difference between the Ravens and the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, look no further than the quarterbacks.

In the Ravens' three losses this season to the Steelers, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made plays and the Ravens' Joe Flacco hardly made any.

It was to be expected. Flacco was only a rookie. Roethlisberger, in his fifth season, used his experience and moved around in the pocket to find open receivers. Roethlisberger has great vision, and Flacco just isn't there yet.

What's the backup plan?

It should be interesting to see what the Ravens do with backup quarterback Troy Smith during the offseason. Smith is expected to make $460,000 in 2009 and become a restricted free agent in 2010.

It's unlikely Smith will want to sit another season as a backup behind Flacco. Todd Bouman gave Flacco more tips and help than Smith, and Bouman was the No. 3 quarterback.

Easy, now

It was fun listening to Rex Ryan's news conference Wednesday as he became head coach of the New York Jets. Ryan was talking tough, and, of course, the New York media were eating it up.

But some of those statements could come back to hurt Ryan, and that vicious media won't mind rehashing them. It reminds me of Billick when he first came to Baltimore and told fans to "take a leap of faith" with him regarding quarterback Scott Mitchell.

Too light on his feet?

Ravens center Jason Brown had a strong year, and he came into training camp in excellent shape after having dropped some weight during the offseason.

But he might have dropped too much. He seemed to get pushed back by the bigger defensive tackles in the NFL, and that never happened when he was heavier and played guard.

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