Steve Bisciotti has enjoyed three straight playoff seasons, but the Ravens owner knows there are some pressing issues facing his franchise and the NFL. At the annual league meetings Monday in New Orleans, Bisciotti spoke with The Baltimore Sun's Jamison Hensley about his "embarrassment" over the labor dispute, a contract extension for quarterback Joe Flacco, his feelings toward safety Tom Zbikowski's boxing career, the possible successor to general manager Ozzie Newsome and what it will take to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.
Question: Are you concerned about losing fans because of a labor fight over billions of dollars when they are struggling in an economy with high gas prices and unemployment?
Answer: Yes, very much so. I don't think anybody is going to win the war of public opinion. And I don't think it's going to matter in the long run. I think fighting turns off the fans regardless of who is in the right or wrong. I don't want to curry favor with my fans. I'm embarrassed that we're fighting over money, just like you would be embarrassed if you and your wife were fighting over money in public. It's an embarrassing topic to have to get into. Unfortunately, it is a public forum running a professional football team. I'm very concerned.
Q: Will it be difficult to continue as business as usual with no layoffs if the lockout extends into the season?
A: I can't speculate on something that I truly don't believe is going to happen. I believe in my heart that we're not going to miss games. I believe in my heart that we should be negotiating yesterday and today and the next day. I understand all of the leverage that can be gained or lost by favorable or unfavorable rulings. When it's all said and done, all of the players and all the owners want to play football. I think sometimes it's portrayed and I think people in their negotiating posture can say we're miles apart. But I've seen the numbers. I've seen what we offer the players. I see what the players are getting now. I think they should have stayed a union and continued to negotiate. I'm as optimistic — or maybe even more optimistic — than I was in January that we're going to have a full season.
Q: At this point in the labor negotiations, do you believe you have turned off fans?
A: Yeah. I think that a public fight over money turns off everybody. I think it's a whole new ballgame if we don't give them football. I know that we are sold out. I know that our fans are renewing their season tickets at basically the same rate as our prior years. We've always enjoyed a renewal rate of 98 or 99 percent. If we were to miss football, all or part of this season, then it wouldn't surprise me in the least for 2012 to come in at our lowest level ever. Our fans have loved football for 20, 30 and 40 years. If the fight screws up the season, shame on both sides. We've got to get this done. If we turn off our fans, then shame on us.
Q: Joe Flacco will enter the final year of his contract next season. Are there any plans to talk about an extension for him when the lockout is over?
A: That's a tough one for me because that's Ozzie's department. I hate to speak for Ozzie, but I would imagine that like [John] Harbaugh, we would be starting negotiations with him so that entering 2012 he won't be playing in his final year. I would anticipate an extension that starts in 2012.
Q: Would you ever envision a scenario where he would become a free agent in a couple of years?
A: No. But they franchised Peyton Manning. That's something that we have under the CBA [collective bargaining agreement]. It happened with Haloti [Ngata]. It happened with [Terrell] Suggs and [Chris] McAlister. It's not out of the question. If Peyton Manning is the sacred cow, there's precedent there. But I would hope we would get something done again. And that gives us a whole year. Our goal is to get it done for 2012 for sure.
Q: Flacco said he talked to you about the job security of quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. What was your reaction when Flacco publicly voiced his displeasure over Zorn's firing?
A: I wasn't surprised and I wasn't offended at all. We want Joe to be the leader of this team. We want his opinion know and want his opinion respected. The fact that he felt disrespected and he didn't get his way maybe is the learning process for Joe in that he wasn't brought to the table for his opinion in the first couple of years. The first step to him becoming a leader is to get his opinion. But getting his opinion across and getting his way are two different things. I want him to be included in the decision. But all decisions aren't going to go his way. I think if you talk to Joe now, his first reaction was, they didn't listen to me. Now, I think now he would say: 'They listened to me, but they didn't agree with me.'
Q: Have you talked to Flacco since the coaching move?