Soon after Steve Bisciotti assumed full ownership of the Ravens in 2004, he declared that he wanted his team to be a stable, consistent franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers that competed for a championship every year.
The Ravens have achieved that goal, and Bisciotti ensured several more years of stability this week when he announced John Harbaugh had agreed to a contract extension that will keep him as the head coach until 2025.
Bisciotti also expressed optimism about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s future, new team president Sashi Brown, an improved training and conditioning program and, maybe most importantly, his desire to maintain ownership into the foreseeable future.
There will be some critics, and rightfully so, who will point to Harbaugh’s poor clock management, last season’s slew of injuries and Jackson’s lone playoff win in four seasons. But those are only small pieces of the big picture.
Few organizations have been better than the Ravens, who have won two Super Bowl titles since moving to Baltimore in 1996.
The Ravens have also reached the playoffs in nine of the past 14 years under Harbaugh and advanced to the AFC championship game in 2008, 2011 and 2012. That puts them right up there with other top organizations in the league, such as the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
It could be so much worse. The Ravens could be the Cleveland Browns, who have had 12 head coaches, eight general managers and three owners since returning to the NFL in 1999.
The rumors have been rampant about Bisciotti selling this team for almost three years now. Every time there are additions to M&T Bank Stadium, there is an assumption that Bisciotti is preparing to sell.
He dismissed that speculation this week during an interview with local reporters, and at one point said he would sell the team before making threats about relocating. That should calm Baltimore fans who experienced the Colts’ move to Indianapolis nearly 40 years ago.
The doubts about Brown, 45, are understandable, especially since he is replacing long-time president Dick Cass. Brown was the lead counsel for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2005 to 2012 before becoming executive vice president and later general manager for the Browns from 2013 to 2017.
Those are two of the NFL’s worst-run franchises. But the saving grace is that Brown was basically hired by Cass, who is well respected throughout the NFL. According to former Ravens general manger Ozzie Newsome, now an executive vice president, Cass did 95% of the work in hiring Brown before presenting him to Bisciotti for final approval.
As for Harbaugh, his extension was expected. His overaggressive philosophy in crunch time cost the Ravens a playoff berth last season, and his clock management isn’t so great either, but the bottom line is he wins games. Harbaugh has a 137-88 career record — a .608 winning percentage — in 14 seasons in Baltimore and nine playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl win in 2012. His only two losing seasons came in 2015 (5-11) and 2021 (8-9), and both featured injuries to his starting quarterback.
Harbaugh has evolved from being the virtual cheerleading college coach (remember the 53 mighty men jackets?) to one who can actually accept high-maintenance players like cornerback Marcus Peters.
It’s too early to evaluate general manager Eric DeCosta. He needs to be treated like a draft pick and get a three- or four-year window to develop before a sound judgment can be made.
So far, DeCosta’s three drafts have been solid, but lacking game-changing players. His four first-round selections have been with the No. 25, No. 28, No. 27 and No. 31 overall picks, which have netted the Ravens receivers Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman and linebackers Patrick Queen and Odafe Oweh.
Some will say that elite players must be taken in the top 10 overall, but the Ravens selected linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26, tight end Todd Heap at No. 31, safety Ed Reed at No. 24 and Jackson at No. 32.
That’s why DeCosta deserves more time, and maybe that will help some of his offseason free-agent acquisitions improve as well.
As far as Jackson, I’ve been saying for nearly a year now that there is no rush to sign him. The Ravens picked up his fifth-year option for $23 million this season and can place the franchise tag on him for two more years afterward.
If he improves and gets the Ravens deep into the postseason, then show him the money. If not, show him the door. The idea of having a running quarterback is nothing new, but since the Ravens have already built their offense around him they might as well see the project to completion. And they can do it without paying the going rate of about $40 million per season.
To me, it’s all part of the franchise’s stability and consistency without pushing too far against the salary cap.
The only major difference for the Ravens is really addressing offseason injuries, which Harbaugh said they have done. Besides the team hiring a new trainer in Adrian Dixon, Harbaugh is making some adjustments to his coaching game plan.
It’s all part of him evolving as a coach.
“The only benefit of it is it forces you to tear things down to the base and kind of rebuild them,” Bisciotti said of last season’s injuries. “I think it was a good exercise to have to torn down and looked at. John’s looking at the way he practices and the way he ramps up training camp. He was doing the same thing that he was doing for years and years without us leading the league in injuries. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do this better and this better and this better.
“If we change everything that we think we need to change this year and it happens again, then everyone is going to go, ‘They have the worst luck in the world.’ And if we don’t [have injuries] again, then people are going to say, ‘Well it wasn’t all bad luck. They changed a lot of their practices to get to this point.’ We’ll take that, too. I believe we’re a better organization because we were forced to address it.”
This is one time where change is good, but again you have to look at the overall picture. If the Ravens get healthy again with players like Peters, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and left tackle Ronnie Stanley returning, the foundation is in place.
Then it’s only a matter of getting some help in the draft or through free agency. That’s the way good, stable organizations work.
The Ravens are one of them.