Lewis, Ravens reach $22 million agreement

3-year pact means linebacker could retire as a Raven

March 05, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ray Lewis will be a Raven for life.

The longtime face of the franchise ended longer-than-expected negotiations and agreed in principle on a multiyear contract with the Ravens yesterday.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who reached the agreement with the 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker at 4:15 p.m. yesterday, wouldn't disclose the length of the deal.

But he said: "Ray Lewis can retire as a Raven."

Lewis, 33, is expected to sign a three-year, $22 million deal, according to multiple sources.

The second player ever drafted by the Ravens, Lewis instantly became the centerpiece of the fledgling franchise and developed into one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history. His fiery leadership proved pivotal in building the Ravens from a relocated team in 1996 to Super Bowl champions in 2000.

"From beginning to end as a Raven ... Wow!" Lewis said in a statement. "My heart is with the Ravens. My heart is with Baltimore and the great fans."

The re-signing of Lewis is unusual because few NFL stars have been able to play their entire career with one team.

Joe Montana finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs after winning Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers. Emmitt Smith went to the Arizona Cardinals after setting the NFL rushing record with the Dallas Cowboys. Even Johnny Unitas played his final season with the San Diego Chargers after capturing the hearts of Baltimore Colts fans.

"I don't think an athlete can have a greater legacy than to be able to stay in one place for an entire career," Lewis said. "I feel so fortunate that the Ravens did what they had to do to make this happen."

The Ravens were busy yesterday, keeping Lewis and adding free-agent center Matt Birk after he spent the first 11 years of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. Birk, 32, a six-time Pro Bowl lineman, agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract and joined cornerback Domonique Foxworth, a Baltimore native, as the team's biggest free-agent signings.

The Ravens are hoping this splash offsets the losses of three starters - linebacker Bart Scott, center Jason Brown and safety Jim Leonhard - and allows them to make another strong playoff run this season.

"What a great day for the Ravens," coach John Harbaugh said. "To get the commitment from Ray means so much to the team, to the franchise and to our fans."

The Ravens repeatedly expressed their desire to retain Lewis. Nearly a year ago, owner Steve Bisciotti told The Baltimore Sun that the Ravens would "outbid" other teams if Lewis reached free agency.

But there were signs of a possible split between Lewis and the Ravens over the past month.

On Feb. 4, Lewis told the NFL Network that he wouldn't give "a hometown discount" to the Ravens and talked about his interest in going to the New York Jets or Dallas Cowboys. About two weeks later, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware said that Lewis told him that it's his "dream" to play in Dallas.

According to a league source, the Ravens offered Lewis a three-year, $24 million deal before the start of free agency on Friday. Lewis declined so he could become a free agent for the first time in his 13-year career.

Surprisingly, Lewis didn't draw any interest from other teams. The Jets chose to pursue Lewis' younger teammate, Scott, and the Cowboys decided to sign Keith Brooking, a cheaper alternative at linebacker.

"Over the last six days, I took a back seat and waited to see what would happen," Lewis said from his Florida home. "This is part of God's plan, and I couldn't be happier."

Lewis has long been the most recognizable player on the Ravens.

He has twice won the NFL defensive player of the year award (in 2000 and 2003). He was named the Super Bowl most valuable player in January 2001, when the Ravens triumphed over the New York Giants.

Now, Lewis has cemented his legacy in Baltimore with yesterday's deal. A team spokesman said the contract would be finalized in the next two weeks.

Said Lewis: "For me to be here in an area that has become so important to me and my family, that's special, very special."

Sun columnist Mike Preston contributed to this article.

RAY LEWIS

6-1, 250, 33 years old

Linebacker in his 13th season

Born: May 15, 1975; Bartow, Fla.

College: Miami (Fla.)

Drafted: 1996, 1st round (26th overall)

1996: The Ravens' second of two first-round picks in their inaugural season (the first was offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden). Led the team in tackles, averaging more than 10 a game.

1997: Led the NFL with 210 tackles and was named to Pro Bowl as "needs player."

1998: Voted to Pro Bowl. Again led team in tackles (154) despite missing nearly three games with an elbow injury.

1999: For the second time, led the NFL in tackles (198) and had three interceptions. Was a consensus All-Pro.

2000: Led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants and was both the Super Bowl MVP and the NFL defensive MVP.

2001: For the third time in five seasons, led the NFL in tackles (196).

2002: Season abbreviated to five games due to a shoulder injury that snapped streak of 63 straight games. Finished with 85 tackles.

2003: Bounced back to become AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Led all linebackers with six interceptions (including a 29-yard touchdown against San Francisco) and again led the NFL in tackles, a career-high 225.

2004: For the third time, recorded at least 200 tackles to lead the NFL for a fifth time in that category and was named to a seventh Pro Bowl..

2005: Suffered second significant injury of career (torn hamstring) that limited him to six games.

2006: In a playoff loss to Indianapolis, had 23 tackles and three passes defensed. During regular season, had career-high five sacks.

2007: Went over 2,000 career tackles on way to ninth Pro Bowl.

2008: For first time since 2003, played in all 16 regular-season games and had 160 tackles, three interceptions and 3 1/2 sacks. Voted to his 10th Pro Bowl.

Bill Ordine

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