Backlog: J. Lewis signs

Raven stays with 3-year deal, will compete with Anderson

March 14, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

The Ravens reached an agreement with Jamal Lewis yesterday, just a day after adding Mike Anderson, instantly turning their backfield from one without any starters to one with too many.

After a whirlwind stockpiling of two power runners, the only question left about the Ravens' ground attack is: Who's going to be the featured back this season?

According to general manager Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have not handed the starting job to anyone yet.

"It's up to the coaching staff, but the starter will be determined in training camp," Newsome said.

Two team officials said yesterday that they were certain Lewis would start the season over Anderson unless he remains stuck in last season's funk.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions stated incorrectly that running backs Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson had combined for one season with more than 30 receptions. Lewis caught 47 passes for the Ravens in 2002 and 32 in 2005.
The Sun regrets the errors.

There was no such debate about the Ravens' attempts to motivate the franchise's all-time leading rusher. From the addition of Anderson to the structure of Lewis' contract, the Ravens are looking to prod Lewis, whose rushing totals have declined in each of the past two seasons.

According to ESPN, Lewis' three-year, $26 million contract is essentially a one-year commitment.

After receiving $6 million this season ($5 million signing bonus plus $1 million salary), Lewis is scheduled to earn $10 million in the final two years of the deal. Before he is due a $5 million bonus next March, the Ravens must decide whether to pay him (which is considered unlikely), renegotiate a new contract or cut him.

It was a surprise that Lewis agreed to this deal - turning down a longer-term contract from the Denver Broncos - only a few hours after Anderson accepted a four-year, $8 million contract.

Lewis complained at times last season about a lack of carries, a problem he doesn't expect to reoccur.

"I've got a feeling now that we got this done, it's going to be a little different," Lewis said. "I think we'll get back to the way it used to be."

Asked if playing time came up in his conversations with the Ravens, Lewis said: "I didn't bring that up. At the same time, I know the Ravens want to win, and they know what it takes. They'll get it done."

Lewis, who at 26 is six years younger than Anderson, has had more prolific numbers over the past six seasons (6,669 yards to 3,822 yards). But Anderson out-gained Lewis last season (1,014 yards to 906 yards) despite playing in the Broncos' running back-by-committee system.

Anderson's agent, Peter Schaffer, who had expected Anderson to start immediately for the Ravens, seemed agreeable to the return of Lewis.

"Mike's accustomed to sharing the workload," Schaffer said.

The coaching staff is "exploring" another option in which neither would have to be on the sideline. Anderson has played fullback before in the NFL, which provides flexibility to the offense.

The Ravens are seeking any way to boost the NFL's No. 21 rushing attack, their lowest ranking since 1997.

"In the near future, we're going to find out if we can use both of them at the same time," running backs coach Tony Nathan said.

The biggest problem for the Ravens' backfield is the lack of a prototypical third-down back. Lewis and Anderson have combined for one season with more than 30 catches, and No. 3 running back Musa Smith has had trouble staying healthy.

Still, the Ravens are in better shape than last week, when Lewis and backup Chester Taylor left a gaping void at running back by becoming free agents. With their recent moves, it decidedly decreases the chances of the Ravens drafting a running back in the early rounds.

"Just last week I was kind of scared," Nathan said. "Now I feel like the cat that swallowed the canary."

After a flurry of activity on the opening weekend of free agency, the Ravens are expected to catch their breath over the next couple of days. Their remaining targets are a veteran quarterback, safety and punter.

There's no rush for the Ravens to sign a quarterback because second-tier prospects such as Kerry Collins have received little interest. That allows the Ravens to wait and see if another quarterback - perhaps Steve McNair from the salary cap-strapped Tennessee Titans - becomes available.

As far as punters, the Ravens have shown interest in Carolina Panthers free agent Jason Baker but have not scheduled a visit. Baker, who led the NFC with a 38.9-yard net average, is expected to meet with the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Another possibility is Sean Landeta, who attended Loch Raven High and Towson State.

The only other hole in the starting lineup is at safety. If they can't get good value on a veteran, the Ravens seem content to address that in the draft.

Note -- Outside linebacker Bart Scott signed his three-year, $13.5 million contract with the Ravens yesterday. "He's got Pro Bowl ability," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Obviously, he's a guy we really couldn't afford to lose."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Mike Preston contributed to this article.

RECAP OF RAVENS' RECENT MOVES

Who's coming

DE Trevor Pryce

RB Mike Anderson

DT Justin Bannan Who's going

DT Maake Kemoeatu

RB Chester Taylor

DE Tony Weaver

P Dave Zastudil Who's staying

LB Bart Scott

RB Jamal Lewis (above)

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