The Ravens spent weeks reviewing Jamal Lewis' situation, and they reached a logical conclusion yesterday by not designating Lewis the franchise or transition player, allowing the star running back to become an unrestricted free agent.
It worked out amicably for both sides.
There are no questions lingering for the Ravens. They walk away knowing that they need to find a franchise runner either through free agency or the NFL draft in April, and Lewis leaves without bitterness and with memories of a six-year career that includes a Super Bowl championship and a reputation as one of the league's top halfbacks.
"It allows me to get a fresh start that I probably need," said Lewis, who sold his house in Baltimore County to defensive tackle Kelly Gregg yesterday. "I'm feeling good about the situation. I'm not bitter at all. I have a feeling that something good is going to come out of this entire thing."
Neither the Ravens nor their fans want another season of discontented players, and Lewis would have been one if the Ravens had designated him the franchise player. NFL players avoid that label the way Dick Cheney avoids the media.
Lewis would have been unhappy. He had already told some members within the organization that he was prepared to miss extensive playing time if the Ravens used the tag on him. We basically saw that act last year when the Ravens reneged on a preseason promise to sign Lewis to a long-term contract.
Nearly midway through the season, Lewis acknowledged he wasn't running with his usual power because he feared getting hurt. The mysterious hand injury before the Denver Broncos game was more fake than real. He deserved an Oscar, and would have had more performances during the 2006 season if the Ravens had kept him around.
But that's not a concern anymore.
The Ravens have a gaping hole to fill because they don't have a top running back on the roster, but maybe they can find a player who'll report to training camp in shape. Or one who isn't one sip of a Natty Boh away from violating the league's substance and alcohol abuse policy.
Drafting a rookie such as Southern California's LenDale White or Memphis' DeAngelo Williams might raise some questions, but you won't have to worry whether he's playing hard or withholding services. You don't fear that you have invested $6 million in a player who might be washed up, much as the Tennessee Titans did years ago with Eddie George.
The Ravens wanted to trade Lewis, but there were no serious takers because he comes with some baggage. He has had several positive drug tests, as well as ankle and knee injuries. But more importantly, the Ravens had to rid themselves of Lewis because he, like many other veterans, no longer wanted to play for coach Brian Billick.
When Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti announced at the end of the season that Billick would return for another year, it made absolutely no sense for the Ravens to bring back an unhappy veteran such as Lewis. Lewis chuckled twice, and then laughed when asked about his relationship with Billick.
"I don't know what to say about it," Lewis said initially. He then added: "We really didn't bump heads, but I've always played for coaches who shoot the truth. I want the truth and didn't get it here. Other coaches handled me as a partner, but here I was splitting time with Chester [Taylor]. The year before they're running me 25 to 30 times a game with a bad ankle and we're trying to get into the playoffs. This year, I'm carrying it only 10 to 15 times on a 6-10 team. It doesn't make a lot of sense, huh?"
About as much sense as offering Lewis a long-term contract.
Lewis gained the reputation of being a disgruntled, sarcastic player who didn't seem to care about the 2005 season. He's far from it. He's a gullible, prideful man who doesn't mince his words. You ask a direct question, you get a direct answer.
"My gut feeling is I won't be back," said Lewis, when asked about the Ravens' wanting to still re-sign him. "They didn't negotiate with me [throughout the season], so why would they negotiate with me now?"
Before last season, he played football with a passion. Like most star players, he just wants the ball, and feels he can get more carries in places like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Arizona or New England.
Four of the five previous seasons, the Ravens hitched a ride on Lewis' legs and back. Four times he rushed for more than 1,000 yards, gaining 1,364 yards during the Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2000. Who can forget 2003, when Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards, just 39 short of the all-time record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984?