NFL may add to Lewis' plea-deal terms

On the Ravens

Distractions shadow Ravens' sunny surge

October 02, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

EVERYTHING SEEMED to be going so well. Quarterback Kyle Boller was no longer tripping over his feet and the strong running game had resurfaced. The defense was dominating and the special teams improving. The Ravens were tied for first place in the AFC North, and ready to make a huge statement on national television.

It was supposed to be a coming-out party Monday night against Kansas City. Ray Lewis was going to dance, Prime Time was going to strut, Ed Reed was going to take off his helmet for mug time, and Chris McAlister was going to do who knows what?

And then came the news: Attorneys for Ravens running back Jamal Lewis and federal prosecutors reached a plea-bargain agreement on drug indictment charges against Lewis last night. Lewis will have to serve no more than four to six months in prison beginning no sooner than February.

Darn feds, they rained on our parade with this distraction, and it might get worse for the Ravens because of pending contract negotiations with the team's top two players, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and inside linebacker Ray Lewis.

Let's start with Jamal Lewis first. A source close to Lewis said he knew about possible plea arrangements as early as last week.

We've seen this act before, oh, about seven weeks ago before the Ravens played their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons on ESPN. That's when the feds announced Lewis' trial date (Nov. 1).

But Lewis' admission of guilt won't be a big deal for the Ravens immediately on the field. Head coach Brian Billick is at his best at these times. It's all part of his "Us Against the World" theme. He'll come out arrogant and condescending like his clone (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) in a cussing, fussing, fighting mood Monday night.

It's still unclear, though, what the league will do with Lewis. He is expected to be suspended for at least four games, but as of last night it was yet to be determined if the suspension was going to be implemented this season or next. You can expect a harsh sentence from commisioner Paul Tagliabue because the league was embarrassed by this incident.

It's also another black eye for the Ravens, an organization that has had several players run afoul of the law since 2000, including Ray Lewis, Corey Fuller and Terrell Suggs.

Certainly, these trial proceedings had to be taking a toll on Lewis. He wasn't distracted on game day. High-performance athletes like Lewis and Kobe Bryant can block things out, which is part of what makes them great. But even though Lewis is Superman for 3 1/2 hours on Sundays, he is human the rest of the week. Every day, almost every hour and every minute, he had to think about his current life coming to an end.

All those years of training, all of those games, all of the millions of dollars could have been gone. Only a year ago, he was challenging Eric Dickerson for the single-season rushing record. If there were a trial, he could have been out of the league by the middle of next month and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

"His career is flashing before his eyes and it's taxing because it's a tremendous process he has to go through," said Earnest Byner, the Washington Redskins running backs coach, yesterday before The Sun learned an agreement had been reached.

Byner would know. Since 1998 until last year, he was part-time coach, part-time counselor with the Ravens working with troubled players like Bam Morris, Larry Webster, Ralph Staten and Earnest Hunter.

Byner and Lewis remain close. They talked to each other often throughout the process.

"There is already tremendous pressure just to play on game day in this league," said Byner. "Then you have the other pressures like everyone else of family, and their concerns. There are players with strong minds who can separate game day from practice, and guys who can walk into the practice facility and turn things off on the outside world.

"Jamal is a strong-minded guy, and I'm proud of him, the way he has handled things, of going back and forth to Atlanta," said Byner. "He has done quite well, and I think this will eventually produce more gems out of Jamal. But to think you can deal with something like this and not be distracted, it's impossible."

Distractions are as much a part of the game as blocking, tackling, passing and catching. More could be coming soon. One of the keys for the Ravens in the offseason is to re-sign Ogden, who has three years left, to a new contract that would create salary-cap room to sign some of the team's younger free agents like cornerbacks Chris McAlister, Gary Baxter, linebacker Ed Hartwell and center Casey Rabach.

But according to a team source, Ogden has already rejected one proposal, and is in no hurry to complete a deal because he has the leverage. Another player looking to sign a new contract is Ray Lewis, who has four years left on his current deal.

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