McCrary on J. Lewis: Contract is the issue

On the Ravens

October 25, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Former Ravens Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary was listening to the call-in talk show on WJFK (1300 AM) Sunday night when he decided enough was enough.

The calls were too disturbing.

There was criticism that running back Jamal Lewis was too slow. They said he was indecisive. Some suggested he had lost it, and that's when McCrary called in to defend his friend and former teammate.

On live radio, McCrary suggested that because the Ravens had broken a promise to Lewis about a contract extension before the start of this season, his last under current terms, the Pro Bowl back wasn't going to give 100 percent and risk injury.

The comments touched off a firestorm on talk radio, which doesn't take much in this town. Despite reports that McCrary was backing off his statements, he was still adamant yesterday but offered some clarity.

Before the start of this season, Lewis said the Ravens told him that if he accepted a plea agreement to serve four months in a Florida federal prison on drug conspiracy charges, it would have no impact on his team status and a new contract before the season started.

There has been no new deal, and Lewis has struggled through the first six games, rushing 113 times for only 326 yards and a touchdown. McCrary said the broken promise, along with the offseason ankle surgery and an ineffective offensive line, were all major factors.

"I watched the game on TV, and I was hyped afterward," said McCrary, a color commentator for the station at Ravens home games. "Then I'm listening to these people call in, and they're bad-mouthing my friend, a former teammate. They were picking on him, and they were wrong.

"I called in and told them the reason Jamal wasn't probably running as well was because the club had broken its promise, that it never came to fruition. Jamal is running at 100 percent, but he doesn't have that killer instinct. He isn't running with the same passion."

Surprise, surprise.

This really isn't a news flash, except for those who don't live in the real world of modern sports. It has been out there for everyone to see all season. Lewis may have been slowed by offseason ankle surgery and the rust that followed, but those stalled contract talks are lodged in the back of his head.

Some fans didn't want to believe it earlier in the season, but it's different now because the comments are coming from Mc- Crary. Since the Ravens began business in Baltimore in 1995, McCrary has become one of the team's favorite players.

He was all-out, Mr. Intensity on every play. He played hurt. He was, and still is, extremely active in the community. McCrary signed several multi-million dollar contracts throughout his career. One year in Baltimore, Mc- Crary walked out of training camp for two days because of stalled contract talks.

"Jamal is a warrior, one of the few warriors on the team," Mc- Crary said. "He loves being physical and running over people. He's not even close to being finished. There is still a lot of talent there. You've got to pay your warriors. They have to be able to go out on the field and be completely focused. There can't be any interference because they play at a different level than other players.

"I always played at 100 percent because the Ravens always took care of me. We never talked about money or business during the season. It was time for football. You always want the business behind you before the season starts."

The NFL is all about business first, entertainment second. We're not talking about the 1950s and 1960s when players had to work second jobs such as driving trucks or selling automobiles to make a living. We're talking about millions of dollars per season, TV deals and other endorsements.

A new contract is on Lewis' mind just as it is on the mind of safety Ed Reed, who has one year left after this season on his current contract, and Ray Lewis, who has several more years remaining but has been balking about another contract extension. A running back is more concerned about contracts than other players because the span of their careers is so short.

A new contract is why Reed threatened to hold out of training camp and why Ray Lewis sits alone on the bench during games. They're sending messages.

Money, money, money.

"To me, a man's word is everything. It's bonding," McCrary said. "If [Jamal Lewis] pleaded guilty because they said they would support him, and then turned their back on him, then that puts both parties in a bad situation."

McCrary says other factors have contributed to Lewis' slow start. He says there still might be an ankle problem and admits that the holes aren't there like they were in previous years, especially in 2003 when Lewis ran for a league-high 2,066 yards.

That's an understatement. Just look at the tape from the Ravens' 10-6 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday. There were plenty of times when the Bears had already penetrated the Ravens' backfield just as Lewis was getting the ball. There were times when he had to change directions quickly just to find a glimmer of room to run. Lewis finished with only 34 yards on 15 carries.

His backup, Chester Taylor, had 21 yards on two carries. There is still a debate among fans about who should get the most carries. Is it Lewis, the power runner, or Taylor, the all-purpose back?

No one can be more frustrated than Lewis. This is a big year for him before possibly hitting the free-agent market. McCrary didn't endorse either running back yesterday. He really doesn't care. All he heard Sunday night were callers criticizing his former teammate and friend, a player who wasn't there to defend himself.

McCrary just wanted to tell Lewis' story, only through the eyes of a former warrior.

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