After allowing linebacker Adalius Thomas to hit the free-agent market, the Ravens are looking to keep running back Jamal Lewis from reaching it.
The Ravens have had preliminary discussions with Lewis this week about reworking his contract before they would be forced to cut him next Saturday, when he would receive a $5 million roster bonus.
Lewis is open to restructuring his contract and remaining with the Ravens for the 2007 season, the running back's agent said.
"Jamal would like to come back to play for the Ravens," said Mitch Frankel, Lewis' agent, "but we are going to have to wait and see what type of contract they're talking about."
If the Ravens can't restructure Lewis' contract, they are expected to release the franchise's all-time leading rusher.
Cutting Lewis, who has an $11.6 million salary cap number, would create $8.3 million in cap room. The Ravens are approximately $3 million under the cap and need more space to address their needs at outside linebacker (Thomas is not expected to return) and offensive tackle (right tackle Tony Pashos is a free agent).
"Clearly, we didn't expect them to exercise next year's $10 million [$5 million bonus plus $5 million salary]," Frankel said. "We are definitely open to the idea of coming back. It's just a matter of seeing what they're thinking about."
Lewis, 27, has not been the same running back the past two seasons, failing to average 4.0 yards a carry. He has been criticized for hesitating when reaching the line of scrimmage and lacking breakaway speed.
But the Ravens could have a difficult time finding a replacement for Lewis, who was the NFL's 16th-leading rusher last season. The available running backs in free agency and the draft are considered a weak group.
There are currently only four running backs available in free agency who ranked in the top 40 in rushing yards last season, including none in the top 12. If Lewis is released, he would rank second among free-agent running backs in rushing yards gained last season.
And there are no running backs in the draft who would be worthy of a first-round selection when the Ravens select at No. 29. The Ravens could take either Louisville's Michael Bush or Auburn's Kenny Irons in the second round.
The Ravens need another running back, whether it's retaining Lewis or looking elsewhere. The only experienced running back under contract with the Ravens is Mike Anderson, who played a limited role for the team last season.
Lewis, a former NFL Offensive Player of the Year, ran for 1,132 yards last season and scored nine touchdowns. But his average of 3.6 yards a carry was the second worst of his six seasons.
Lewis later said bone spurs in his right ankle slowed him last season. He had surgery last month.
"He'll be fine," Frankel said. "He'll feel better than he did last year. He's not going to be running in pain."
Jamal Lewis' rushing statistics
Year Att. Yds Avg. YPG LG TD
2000 309 1364 4.4 85.3 45 6
2002 308 1327 4.3 82.9 75 6
2003 387 2066 5.3 129.1 82 14
2004 235 1006 4.3 83.8 75 7
2005 269 906 3.4 60.4 25 3
2006 314 1132 3.6 70.8 52 9
YPG - Yards per game
Note: Lewis did not play in 2001 because of a knee injury.