In this space a month ago, the contract negotiations between the Ravens and Ray Lewis were described as the franchise's "biggest chess match ever." Looks like Ozzie Newsome just called checkmate.
It's not that everybody involved doesn't come out of this a winner, but in the grand scheme, nobody won more than Newsome did. Among other things, he retains his ranking among the elite of team decision-makers in all of sports, not just the NFL.
This is about how Newsome envisioned, and expected, everything about the Ravens' free-agency period would play out in general and everything about the Lewis contract in particular. There was no better place for Lewis to play the next few years than with the Ravens, Newsome knew. More important, he knew there was no team that would pay Lewis more than the Ravens.
That last point seemed so risky, so dangerous, so unnecessary a gamble - although there might not have been a team that valued him more than the Ravens, the Ravens were going to be decidedly worse without him. Newsome and the Ravens bet it all that Lewis would not find a better, richer, more appealing suitor on the open market.
It made sense to them. That didn't make it a sure thing. It was all uncharted territory.
When the volume rose - from Lewis, among others - about other teams being ready to pounce, the Ravens stayed quiet. They didn't even strike a match, much less burn any bridges, even when the reports about Lewis seemed to threaten torching everything he had built here for 13 years.
Newsome knew he would get Lewis back, and at the general manager's price, not Lewis'. Now, less than a week after sweat glands burst all over the area at the moment the free-agency period opened, we know that, too.
The Ravens are whole again, and Lewis will finish his career here. (Or, as Newsome put it, he "can.") That's a modern NFL miracle. Jerry Rice and Joe Montana couldn't go wire-to-wire. Marvin Harrison won't. (Another one comes to mind. Used to wear No. 19. Can't recall the name.) It's a long list, the right players in the wrong uniforms, because of money mismanaged and mishandled, with bitterness accompanying them out. Ray Lewis won't be on it.
Speaking of lists, the one of clumsy front offices fumbling talks, risking alienation and causing widespread head-scratching? Newsome and Co. aren't on that one. Arizona Cardinals (with Kurt Warner), Denver Broncos (with Jay Cutler), Philadelphia Eagles (with Brian Dawkins), Washington Redskins (the past decade), please raise your hands.
So here is Newsome's score card: Lewis and Terrell Suggs in, Bart Scott out, but again, not an outcome Newsome wasn't prepared for. Jim Leonhard out, but we'll see what comes of Dawan Landry's health and the development of Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. Jason Brown out, but Matt Birk in - smooth. Chris McAlister out, Domonique Foxworth and more cap flexibility in.
None of these outcomes departed far from the path Newsome more or less laid out as free agency approached.
Ozzie Newsome, take a victory lap.
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