Scouring free agency has become the preferred route to determining a viable successor to Lewis. The Ravens don't appear sold on the current backs on their roster, and have cooled on the possibility of a trade because of a stingy market and cumbersome salary-cap red tape.
"If I were a betting man, I would bet against it [a trade]," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There are cap issues involved. The old days it was easy. It's not to say a trade won't happen, but that's the most difficult of the three scenarios."
The Ravens could make an offer to one of those veterans as early as today, but that move doesn't preclude a trade down the road.
Lewis, who set the team's single-season rushing record with 1,364 yards last year, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee near the end of Wednesday's practice.
Before surgery can be scheduled, he must rehabilitate a sprained medial collateral ligament in the same knee. According to trainer Bill Tessendorf, that process may take two to four weeks.
"The plan is in place to get Jamal ready for 2002," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens senior vice president of football operations.
Today's auditions for Lewis' fill-in are expected to include Allen, Warren, Hill and journeyman Robert Chancey. Other names circulating around Western Maryland College are Errict Rhett, Mario Bates and Jerald Moore.
"We won't find a Jamal Lewis," Newsome said. "We need to find a functional back. We got an upgrade at quarterback. Our receivers have done a very good job and our offensive line has proven that if we put a functional back behind him that we can have a 1,000-yard rusher."
Rhett is a popular choice since he led the Ravens in rushing in 1999 and left on good terms. The 30-year-old veteran, who was cut by the Cleveland Browns on July 30, missed the final 11 games last season after tearing a ligament in his foot.
While Rhett may eventually land at Ravens camp, the two sides are in talks only at this point.
"There's interest on both ends," said Eugene Mato, Rhett's agent. "But nothing has materialized yet."
Allen, 33, came out of retirement in November and ran for 179 yards in four starts with the New Orleans Saints. The year before, he gained 896 yards in 16 games with the New England Patriots.
Warren, 33, split time with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles last season. After being released by the Cowboys, he provided the Eagles with a spark in the playoffs, picking up 85 yards on 22 carries in a wild-card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hill, a former Kansas City Chief, attended the Washington Redskins' minicamp this spring. He was out of football last season.
Allen, though, has the advantage of having ties with the Ravens staff. He spent the 1993 and 1994 seasons in Minnesota, where Billick was the offensive coordinator.
"Terry is a class act," Billick said. "He's obviously on the back end [of his career], so there's a question of how much juice does he have left?"
The trade winds appeared light with the Ravens.
The Denver Broncos aren't willing to part with any of their three backs - Mike Anderson, Terrell Davis or Olandis Gary - and the Green Bay Packers have yet to hear from the Ravens concerning Dorsey Levens. The Ravens may call Robert Smith, who retired from the Minnesota Vikings this off-season, but consider that possibility "far-fetched."
The Ravens also don't have to waste time talking with the Seattle Seahawks about Ricky Watters, who is in the final year of his contract. The Seahawks considered moving Watters to make way for first-round pick Shaun Alexander, but have now decided against it.
"I don't think I'll do it," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer yesterday. "Ricky is ready to go and he's going to be a big part of what we do this year."
If the Ravens attempt a trade, Newsome said he is not looking for a one-year "band-aid" for Lewis. He prefers a young back that has upside potential.
One candidate fitting that label is New Orleans' Chad Morton. As a rookie last season, he saw limited action, rushing for 136 yards on 36 carries. He would seem expendable in a crowded Saints backfield that already has Ricky Williams and Deuce McAllister.
"We will not push ourselves in a position where we're chasing," Newsome said. "That's when you make a mistake. We'll set the limit on what we'll be willing to do, if we're willing to do anything."
Who might replace Jamal Lewis?
Four free-agent running backs the Ravens are considering;
Teams (years): Minnesota (1991-1992, 1994), Washington (1995-1998), New England (1999), New Orleans (2000)
Career Rushing yards: 7,956
Career highlights: Rushed for 1,353 yards in 1996.
Last season: Rushed for 179 yards in four games.
Teams (years): Tampa Bay (1994-1997), Ravens (1998-1999, Cleveland (2000)
Career rushing yards: 4,143
Career highlights: Rushed 332 times for 1,207 yards in 1995.
Last season: Had 71 carries for 258 yards.
Teams (years): Seattle (1990-1997), Dallas (1998-2000), Philadelphia (2000).
Career rushing yards: 7,696
Career highlight: Had 333 carries for 1,545 yards in 1994.
Last season: Had 74 carries for 296 yards.
Teams (years): Kansas City (1994-1997), St. Louis (1998), Detroit (1999)
Career rushing yards: 3,218
Career highlight: Had 155 carries for 667 yards in 1995.
Last season: Did not play in the NFL.