R. Lewis, Ravens seal deal

Linebacker signs contract for 7 years, $50 million, with record $19M bonus

`I got what I wanted'

Team gains $1M-$1.5M in cap room, looks to initiate talks with Adams

August 02, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ray Lewis made NFL history again.

The Ravens' All-Pro linebacker delivered the finishing blow to five months of negotiations, calling his agent at 12:30 yesterday morning and ordering him to seal the deal. Less than 12 hours later, Lewis was signing a seven-year contract worth about $50 million and includes an NFL-record signing bonus of $19 million.

Lewis' bonus represents the largest up-front, no-option payment in league history, surpassing the $16 million given to Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden before the 2000 season. It continued the trend of escalating salaries in sports, following baseball's Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million) and basketball's Shaquille O'Neal (three years, $88.4 million).

"I truly believe they respect what I did and what I'm still able to do for this organization," said Lewis, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXV.

Minutes after signing the whopping deal, Lewis resembled a kid on Christmas morning rather than the most-feared linebacker in the NFL.

He talked about breaking down into tears while calling his mother to tell her that she was financially set for life. It wasn't so long ago when Lewis earned money by cutting lawns for $10 a day.

"I'm a country boy," said Lewis, 27, who grew up in Lakeland, Fla. "So this is cool."

Lewis' record-setting deal ended dragged-out talks that featured three face-to-face meetings in three different states, 12 faxed proposals, an impromptu conversation in a parking lot and a verbal sparring match between Ravens coach Brian Billick and agent Roosevelt Barnes.

In the end, an agreement was reached by a late call from Lewis and some compromising.

According to a league source, the Ravens were offering a signing bonus of $18 million while Lewis' agent was asking for $21 million. The sides decided to find a common ground on the contract, which is believed to include guaranteed money through 2005. The source added that the deal may have to be restructured after four years.

When asked to sum up the negotiations, Lewis glanced over each shoulder to make certain there were no team officials around.

Then, flashing a big smile, he whispered, "I won. I got what I wanted."

The Ravens got what they wanted as well, locking up Lewis for several years while gaining between $1 to 1.5 million in desperately needed salary cap room.

The team will initiate contract talks with defensive tackle Sam Adams, who is also represented by Barnes, and will look to add veteran backups at inside linebacker and safety.

It is believed the Ravens have an interest in linebackers Bernardo Harris (leading tackler four of the past five seasons with Green Bay) and Sam Rogers (531 career tackles with Buffalo and San Diego) and safety Eric Brown (starter for 52 games over past four seasons with Denver). Another possibility is signing receiver Antonio Freeman.

"We now have some options," Billick said. "Sam would certainly be on the top of that list, and we'll move very aggressively on that."

Adams, a Pro Bowl performer the past two seasons with the Ravens, was a vital cog who kept blockers from reaching Lewis and allowing the linebacker to make tackles untouched. In the team's new 3-4 defense, Adams would likely start at defensive end.

Lewis started campaigning for Adams' return at his news conference.

"If you're listening, I need you now," said Lewis, looking at the cameras. "Sign with us."

While Adams is the next priority, the Ravens are continuing to talk with Barnes about reworking the contract of linebacker Peter Boulware, who enters the final year of his deal.

A league source said a signing bonus of $12 million has been discussed but a new deal probably wouldn't happen for a few days. If that occurs, the Ravens would create an additional $3 million of cap space to pursue more veterans.

"I believe that there is the same urgency to get him done," said Barnes, who will remain in Westminster for the negotiations.

By signing Lewis yesterday, the Ravens' monumental rebuilding project has its cornerstone.

Since coming to the Ravens as the 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft, Lewis has been the franchise's leading tackler in each of its six seasons of existence. He led the league in tackles in 1997, '99 and last year, when he also registered a career-high tying three interceptions and 3 1/2 sacks.

Lewis became known as the premier defender in the NFL in 2000, when he was the driving force on a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed and dominated during the Ravens' Super Bowl championship run. Now, his goal is to make history repeat itself.

"I've seen them all play at middle linebacker, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke. ... But the greatest by far is Ray Lewis," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "And I predict a great future."

Said Barnes: "This [contract] assures that Ray will end his career as a Baltimore Raven. Hopefully, I'll be introducing him [at the Pro Football Hall of Fame] in a few years."

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