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Ravens owner: Many NFL teams struggling financially

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Steve Bisciotti says league could shut down in March 2011 if concessions aren’t made by union in negotiations for new CBA

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said Wednesday that several NFL owners are facing a financial shortfall that could create “long-term problems for the league” and ultimately result in a lockout.

As the Ravens prepare for a 2010 season without a salary cap, Bisciotti hinted the NFL could shut down in March 2011 if concessions aren’t made by the players union in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Speaking at a news conference in which team officials looked back at last season and ahead to 2010, Bisciotti insisted many of the 32 NFL teams are struggling to finish in the black.

“I’ve got partners out there right now whose teams are making less money than their linebackers. I think we’ve got an acute problem here with the general profitability of the teams,” Bisciotti said. “We always knew this was not a big cash-flow business, but when you’ve got guys like Jacksonville tarping up 10,000 seats to stop blackouts, when you’ve got teams that are voluntarily staying at the minimum of what they have to spend on the salary cap in order to not go upside down financially, then we already have a structural problem.”

Three years ago, the owners and players union signed a CBA that Bisciotti labeled “a bad deal” for the owners.

“That puts us in the unenviable position of this thing ending in a lockout as opposed to a strike,” he said. “There’s no cash flow. If we don’t get this thing back to the point that teams have enough cash flow … then there’s long-term problem for the league. We’re going to have to address that.”

Ravens president Dick Cass said the club is “doing well compared to other teams around the league. But just because we’re still doing well in revenues, that doesn’t mean we’re generating a lot of profit.”

Although there’s a good chance there will not be a salary cap in place in 2010, that doesn’t mean a team will be allowed to spend at will. And even by spending the maximum, that won’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs.

Using baseball’s New York Yankees as an example, Bisciotti wondered aloud about the payoff on an unbridled spending spree.

“It certainly doesn’t show up in the standings,” he said. “If I’m a Yankees fan, I’m upset we’re not winning 130 games with the roster that they have and the money that they pay out. I think it’s a disgrace they only beat the average team by 10 games in the standings with three times the money. I’d fire that GM. You don’t need a GM. All you have to do is buy the last Cy Young Award winner every year.”

Bisciotti, 49, has been the Ravens’ owner for 10 years, during which the team has regularly sold out its home games. Despite that he still has concern about the future of the league.

“We want to be at a point where teams are not selling off their star players in their fourth year because they can’t afford to sign them to that second contract,” Bisciotti said.

As the Ravens enter an offseason with an uncertain financial environment and no salary cap, general manager Ozzie Newsome is eager to work within the system to enhance their wide receivers and fortify their pass rush.

“The restrictions put on the Baltimore Ravens are put on 31 other ballclubs, too,” Newsome said. “We’ve got to be better than the other 31 clubs in order to make our football team under these circumstances. I look at it as a challenge. It puts the pressure on us to dig down deep to improve our football team.”

The Ravens went 9-7 this season and reached the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by Indianapolis. Bisciotti said the improvement of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco will be the key to success in 2011.

Flacco’s ability to excel could be helped by new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn – and the addition of a few new targets.

“Do we want to improve at the wide receiver position? Yes, because that will further enhance our running game,” Newsome said. “Having a playmaker on the outside will make Joe Flacco become a better quarterback.”

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