Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis has violated the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse policy and has been suspended four games, a league source told The Sun yesterday.
Lewis, the leading rusher for last year's Super Bowl championship team, is currently on injured reserve after blowing out his left knee this summer.
Despite the fact that Lewis can't play this season, the suspension went into effect yesterday because he is still technically on the roster. The Ravens are not allowed to have any contact with him or pay him until his reinstatement, which could occur on Dec. 17, the day after the Ravens' home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This ruling indicated this is the second time that Lewis had broken the substance-abuse policy. The second-year back is now in Stage 2 of the NFL's confidential drug program, meaning he will be subjected to as many as 10 random drug tests a month for two years.
When asked if this incident puts more of an emphasis on the Ravens looking for a running back in the draft, the league source said, "The Ravens will have to see how Jason Brookins and the rest of the running backs perform in the remaining games. They'll also have to see how many good backs there are in the draft and if they're better than the backs they currently have."
Team officials declined to comment yesterday, but the league source said that Ravens coach Brian Billick told his players of the suspension recently.
Ozzie Newsome, the team's senior vice president of football operations, also declined to comment, saying, "individual cases are confidential, but we support the NFL's drug-testing program."
The fifth pick overall in the 2000 draft, Lewis signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract in July 2000. He then ran for a team-record 1,364 yards and carried the offense at times during the Ravens' Super Bowl run.
But this season ended abruptly for Lewis during the end of a practice on Aug. 8, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Lewis, 22, had surgery on Sept. 5 to repair the ligament and had been rehabilitating the knee at the Ravens' Owings Mills practice facility.
The Ravens expect Lewis to be able to do light running by the end of the year and possibly make an appearance in the team's April minicamp.
Before the suspension, health was the main question mark surrounding Lewis. In 1998, his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee ended when he tore a different ligament in his other knee.
In an interview with The Sun last month, Lewis indicated that he would be ready to play for the 2002 season.
"I feel like I'm the best back in the NFL today," Lewis said. "When I come back next year, I'll be able to prove that."
The loss of Lewis dealt a major hit to the Ravens' backfield situation. Without Lewis, the Ravens have gone from the league's fifth-ranked running team to No. 22.
The Ravens signed Terry Allen as Lewis' replacement, but the 33-year-old running back has only played five full games. After gaining 357 yards, he will be out at least a month with a fractured left hand.
With Allen out, a majority of the carries have gone to Brookins, who played on three practice squads last season. Brookins leads the Ravens with 365 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4 yards per carry.
It is the first suspension of a Ravens player - involving the substance-abuse policy - since defensive tackle Larry Webster in March 2000. Webster, who is currently one of the team's top backups, was suspended indefinitely and missed 10 games last season.
The NFL does not disclose details of substance-abuse violations. Its policy covers many issues, including the illegal use of drugs and the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. The policy also includes a series of drug-testing regulations that some players must meet.
If a player fails a test, he is placed into Stage 1 of the NFL's confidential drug program. Another violation moves the player into Stage 2, in which he was subjected to as many as 10 random drug tests per month for two years.
According to the league's policy, a player advances to Stage 3, if, while in Stage 2, he has two positive tests, or two instances in which he fails to comply with his treatment plan or one positive test and one instance of a failure to comply with his treatment plan. At Stage 3, a positive test or failure to comply with treatment would result in a one-year suspension.