Two Lewises good signings, and good sign

November 19, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Jermaine Lewis and, any moment now, Ray Lewis. Give the Ravens props for extending the contracts of two of their home-grown stars. Give them additional props if they've indeed learned from the Wally Williams fiasco, and again grasp the need to satisfy cornerstone players rather than antagonize them.

It sure looks that way, though the Ravens likely would deny any linkage between the signings of the two Lewises and their

ill-conceived strategy with Williams. The bottom line is this: If you want to foster the one-for-all and all-for-one mentality that is so important in football, then you had better practice what you preach.

The Ravens didn't do that with Williams, telling him that they wanted to reach a long-term agreement, then developing a sudden case of amnesia last summer. Their reversal led to Williams' training camp holdout, his seven-game shift from center to left guard and enough ill will to disrupt what had been one of the NFL's strongest offensive lines.

We're not going to feel sorry for Williams, not when he's earning $3.062 million as the Ravens' franchise player. And we're not going to feel sorry for his buddy Orlando Brown, no matter how deep his sympathy pains. If they're truly unhappy, the solution is the same as it should have been for the Orioles' Roberto Alomar: Play your butt off, increase your value and get out.

Of course, just the opposite has happened, with Williams and Brown playing most of the season in a funk. No doubt, they should have been more professional in their approach. But by allowing such animosity to fester, owner Art Modell continued his history of alienating offensive linemen -- Steve Everitt, Tony Jones, etc. -- a history of which his players are all too aware.

More to the point, he hurt his team.

The good news is, the imminent signing of Ray Lewis just one month after Jermaine Lewis would be as positive a message as the Williams dispute was negative. Fans need not worry about the impact of the Ravens' record debt. Modell appears willing and able to spend what it takes to keep his best young players.

For his next trick, he should buy the best available coach and give him whatever control he desires -- yes, even if it means naming him general manager. Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, former San Francisco coach George Seifert and Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak should be the first names on the Ravens' wish list.

A big-time coach, a young quarterback -- the Ravens are playing their way into Donovan McNabb territory -- and there might be hope for this sorry team yet. Some NFL personnel men still believe that the Ravens possess 10-6 talent. And now the best talent is going to stay.

Oddly enough, Modell's revisionist logic on Williams -- let him play the year out, prove he's healthy, earn a long-term deal -- was even more applicable to the two Lewises, both of whom are undersized and significant injury risks.

Jermaine Lewis is a 172-pound receiver who missed five starts last season with leg problems. Yet, the Ravens extended his contract after just six games, fearing they might lose him as a restricted free agent at the end of the season. They certainly would have been justified in waiting to see if he could stay healthy for an entire season -- even as Lewis emerged as one of the most dangerous players in the NFL.

Ray Lewis is a 240-pound middle linebacker who plays with near-reckless abandon -- an injury waiting to happen, in other words. He has missed 2 1/2 games this season with a dislocated elbow. He has another year left on his contract. Yet, the Ravens reportedly are on the verge of signing him to a four-year, $26 million extension, with $7 million guaranteed.

Which is as it should be.

This is football. Players get hurt. But when you've got players as talented as Jermaine and Ray Lewis, there can be no discussion. The two Lewises are the Ravens, along with Jonathan Ogden, Peter Boulware and a few others. Lose them, and you lose what little identity you have.

By acting now, the Ravens can start to repair the damage they created with their shoddy treatment of Williams -- the grumbling among players, the whispering among agents, the fretting among fans. They would still have major questions on offense, both at the skill positions and on the line. But as Ogden said, the signings of the Lewises would "definitely be a step in the right direction."

As for Williams and Brown, the solution isn't just to give them the money, not after the way they've performed this season. But maybe now Modell understands that he can't keep bickering with his top players. It's counterproductive, especially with the players feeding off one another, exacerbating every slight.

Times change, salaries change, but the basic dynamic remains the same. If you want to promote the team concept, you need to act like you mean business. You need to put up or shut up. You need to show love to your best players, and the way to show love is to show them the money.

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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