McGahee gets nod, at a price

Lewis cost less, but is producing less than Ravens running back

Insider

Ravens Weekend

November 16, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

In a season when nothing has seemed to go right for the Ravens, even their offseason decision at running back can be debated.

Based strictly on talent, the Ravens made the right call by going with Willis McGahee over Jamal Lewis, who returns Sunday to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since leaving the Ravens.

McGahee has been the more effective runner, averaging 19 yards more a game than Lewis and producing more yards per carry. He is also a more versatile back than Lewis. McGahee can run for power inside but also hit the edges and catch the ball out of the backfield.

But the change isn't as clear-cut when analyzing value.

In addition to trading three draft picks (two third-rounders and a seventh) to the Buffalo Bills for McGahee, the Ravens signed him to a seven-year, $40.12 million contract. In the first two seasons, McGahee will earn $15 million.

The Browns didn't have to make the same investment with Lewis, signing the free agent to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. Even if they re-sign him to the same deal, Lewis will cost less than half of what McGahee is making over two seasons.

So, the Ravens would be paying more than twice the amount for a starting running back but not receiving twice the production.

What the Ravens are buying is security and consistency.

Unlike the Browns, the Ravens can expect to have a top-10 running back for at least the next 2 1/2 seasons. And unlike Lewis, McGahee can be counted on for 70 to 80 yards a game.

This season, Lewis has been hit or miss. More than 40 percent of his rushing yards came in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals when he gained 216 yards. And four of his six touchdowns came in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks.

In comparison, McGahee has had five games with more than 77 yards rushing and three games under that total. The more impressive part is that he has maintained a respectable level of production despite his starting offensive line being intact only three times this season.

Some argue that McGahee's numbers would be higher if the Ravens used him more. Of the top 10 rushers this season, McGahee has the third-fewest carries per game (19.4).

One reason is the Ravens have trailed early for most of the season (they haven't had a lead in their past three games). Also, until the last game, the Ravens were reluctant to run McGahee on three straight plays.

Still, when they play the Browns on Sunday, the Ravens can feel confident that they have the better running back. They just had to pay a steep price for him.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

WILLIS MCGAHEE .................. JAMAL LEWIS

.........RUSHING YARDS PER GAME

83.2 ............................................................ 64.4

...............YARDS PER CARRY

4.3 ................................................................. 4.0

.....................TOUCHDOWNS

4 ........................................................................ 6

......................20-YARD RUNS

4 ...................................................................... 4

........................... FUMBLES

3 ...................................................................... 4

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