As befitting his unique status and personality, Ray Lewis managed to make news last week without illegal substances being involved. Alex Rodriguez and Michael Phelps, take notes.
Lewis' issues are just about money: He wants the Ravens to pay him a lot, the Ravens want to pay him a lot, and reaching a figure that will leave both sides happy is going to be the fight of the year here in town. With that in mind, Lewis has publicly spoken fighting words, but the Ravens so far aren't fighting back, and they are not expected to.
It's your basic posturing: a player using his leverage, stating his case in the court of public opinion and hoping that court's verdict influences the Ravens.
So what he told the NFL Network last week at the Pro Bowl about not taking any "hometown discount," and about the appeal of leaving his only NFL home for the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets, is less a definitive statement than the latest move in the Ravens' biggest chess match ever. It certainly shouldn't be taken as Lewis' way to signal that he wants out. Or that all the signals he's throwing out are necessarily contradictory or intentionally inflammatory.
That includes the ones to The Baltimore Sun a week before at the Super Bowl, when he said his thoughts were "between me and God." He works in mysterious ways (God, more so than Lewis), and he might not have felt like letting the cat out of the bag yet.
More important, let's not get duped into assuming that Lewis cares more about getting paid than about sealing his legacy in Baltimore. That interview in Hawaii made it clear that Lewis does not discount any part of this decision. He knows what he is worth and isn't afraid to remind us all (including the Ravens) of it.
At the same time, he knows that he won't be the same without Baltimore and the Ravens, and they won't be the same without him. He said as much, but that was understandably overlooked in favor of the hotter remarks about the Cowboys and Jets, and about how, in his mind, "I don't play less. If you don't play less, you don't take less."
Lewis' doing what Cal Ripken Jr. did, and what John Unitas was not allowed to do - go wire-to-wire in this town - has value to him, too, albeit not as a figure that can be put on paper.
On the other hand, he's entitled to as big a figure on paper as he can get, and shame on all those who think otherwise, as if the tiny window of earning and the cautionary tales of ex-players breaking down and dying prematurely are of no concern here. Yes, Lewis has made a lot of money, but who can accurately say, in this business, how much is "enough"?
It is also to Lewis' advantage that Steve Bisciotti has (as Mike Preston has pointed out) overplayed his negotiating hand, twice. In the owner's defense, he likely would find an exception to the beloved, insanely profitable salary cap just one time for special players to be very welcome. (Pssst - they have a "soft" cap in the NBA, folks, invented to solve problems exactly like this one. "Larry Bird Exception," meet the "Ray Lewis Non-Exception.")
Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome know what Lewis is talking about and why, and they know it will take a miracle to keep Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott together and happy with their pay.
They know when to tune in Lewis and when to tune him out, when to worry and when not to. And they know they shouldn't be surprised or angry or hurt by what he says now. If they get that, so should everybody else.
Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).