Critical thinking

Ending 7 months of silence, R. Lewis finally opens up

GM says Raven is staying

April 22, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Despite Ray Lewis' public swipes at the Ravens this week, there are no plans to part ways with the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker, a team official said yesterday.

Lewis recently escalated his rift over a new contract when he failed to endorse the return of coach Brian Billick on Wednesday and then complained about the team's defensive scheme and personnel the next day.

Asked if the Ravens are considering either trading or releasing Lewis, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome quickly said, "No."

The timing of Lewis' criticism is not surprising. After not speaking to the media for seven months, he granted two interviews about a week before the draft, a time when teams are usually more receptive to trades.

Although Lewis told ESPN on Thursday that he didn't want to be traded, he didn't seem overly committed about coming back to the Ravens, either.

"Baltimore is my city," Lewis said. "But at the same time, it's just like another businessman or businesswoman in America. What's better for me? Because if I'm not being used right, you might as well let me go."

Over the past couple of seasons, Lewis has gone from the quintessential team leader - as team officials once described him - to an irritable distraction.

Newsome recently admitted that Lewis asked to be traded before the 2005 season. It was during that season that Lewis appeared less vocal with teammates and made a habit of sitting alone on the bench during games. After Lewis went to Florida to have hamstring surgery in December, some teammates acknowledged a more "relaxed" atmosphere in the locker room.

Now, it seems as if Lewis' unhappiness runs deeper than reworking the last three years of his deal.

Asked Wednesday by Comcast SportsNet whether keeping Billick was a move in the right direction, Lewis declined to back his coach, saying, "No comment."

A day later, Lewis told ESPN that his success has been limited by the Ravens' defensive scheme.

When the Ravens won the Super Bowl in January 2001, Lewis regularly ran free to make tackles because he was shielded from blockers by mammoth, space-eating tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa, both of whom weighed more than 350 pounds.

Since losing those tackles, Lewis has had to fight through more traffic to make plays because the Ravens never truly replaced that bulk inside. Lewis is currently set to play behind two considerably smaller defenders in Kelly Gregg and Justin Bannan, both of whom weigh just more than 300 pounds.

"The thing that frustrates a person like myself is when you don't give me the proper tools to be dominant," Lewis said. "That hasn't been brought up to say, `I've got the Michael Jordan of football on my team but I'm going to take Scottie Pippen away from him.' A lot of people would question: Would Jordan have won six championships without Scottie Pippen?

"It's the same way when we won [after the 2000 season]. We won the Super Bowl [then] because we had two guys in front of me that told me, `You will not be touched.' But if you take that away from me, now I have got to alter, then I got to bubble around people. That ain't my game. When you took those guys away from me, you took a piece of me with them."

Newsome said Lewis has never approached him about the Ravens' lack of size at defensive tackle. One member of the coaching staff pointed out that Lewis won his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2003 when he played behind Gregg and Marques Douglas, another small lineman.

Still, Newsome refused to characterize Lewis as a frustrated player.

"I saw Ray twice in the last couple of weeks and he has greeted me the same way he has greeted me the last 10 years," Newsome said.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, who privately spoke with Lewis after the season, said last month that the Ravens are committed to Lewis unless some team offers a blockbuster deal.

"We want Ray to retire as a Raven," Bisciotti said. "But Ray has every right to spend some of his offseason thinking about Ray Lewis. Ray is still one of the greatest examples of a team player and a leader."

Lewis has not responded to interview requests by The Sun and did not reply to an e-mail yesterday. His agent, David Dunn, was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

This week has been a disappointing one for a franchise that has long stood by Lewis, from supporting him at his murder trial in 2000 to rewarding him with a new contract in 2002 despite having two years left on an existing deal.

That seven-year, $50 million deal (which included a $19 million signing bonus) still ranks Lewis among the elite defensive players' in the NFL. He is scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2006 and $6.5 million each in 2007 and 2008.

Nevertheless, Lewis said he envied situations on other teams in which the linebackers have the luxury of running untouched to make tackles.

"That's why you play the game," Lewis said. "You play the game so your dominance is shown. So if your dominance isn't shown, you have to ask yourself a serious question: What am I doing?"

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