In Ray We Trust? Why the Decision To Bring Back Lewis Is So Tough

Marco RomanellCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2009

With Ray Lewis testing the free agent waters many wonder if the Ravens should make it a priority to keep him in Charm City.

In 1996, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Ravens. In their first-ever draft, the Ravens had two first-round selections. They selected Jonathan Ogden fourth overall and University of Miami Linebacker Ray Lewis 26th overall, and the rest is history.

After completing his 13th NFL season and 10th trip to the Pro Bowl as well as helping lead his team to an AFC Championship game appearance, Ray Lewis will be testing the free agent waters. Where will Lewis end up? only time will tell, but there will be much interest around the NFL for his services.

What is the price tag for a 33-year-old linebacker whose best days seem to be behind him? Well, for Ray Lewis that price tag is a hefty one. Lewis is asking for a $25 million signing bonus and a three- or four-year deal, which would have him playing until the age of 37.

Everyone thought that he had lost a step, but Lewis proved this season that he still has plenty left in the tank. After a season of 117 total tackles and 3.5 sacks, Lewis showed that he is still capable of being more then productive in the NFL. He can still bring the hits, just ask Steelers rookie Running Back Rashard Mendenhall, who Lewis knocked out for the season in Week Four.

The Baltimore Ravens had an unexpected 11-5 season that culminated with a run to the AFC Championship game. Led by rookie quarterback, the sky seems to be the limit for this Ravens team; however, the salary cap could break up this team.

Starting players like Terrell Suggs, Jim Leonhard, Bart Scott and Jason Brown, are all also free agents. With Lewis demanding a $25 million signing bonus, it makes it unlikely that the Ravens will be able to bring back more then one other person besides Lewis.

Brown is a 25-year-old center who could be the anchor of this Ravens offensive line for years. Suggs, 25, a perennial Pro Bowl pass rusher, showed he is worthy of a big contract with a gutsy AFC Championship game performance, playing with a torn shoulder and still recording two sacks.

Leonhard, who was forced into to the starting lineup after and injury to starting safety Dawan Landry, was not only a stalwart in the secondary; he also gave the Ravens production in the return game. Bart Scott was probably the Ravens best linebacker in the playoffs and can play then run and pass very well.

Signing Lewis would mean that most, if not all of these other players could be wearing a different uniform come next season.

This situation is nothing new for the Ravens and their fans. After winning the Super Bowl in the 2000-2001 season, the front office decided to give it one more shot by retaining high-priced players. After a 10-6 season and a playoff appearance in 2002, the Ravens team was shredded thanks to the salary cap.

Despite making the playoffs three times since then, many people believe that the Ravens organization would have been better off rebuilding the team after the Super Bowl season. What is the price of trying to make a second consecutive Super Bowl run? Who knows, but one thing is certain, the Ravens will do what they believe is best.

People outside of Baltimore see Ray Lewis as a great football player who does a lot of talking and dancing. Those who live in Baltimore and are Ravens fans, like myself, know that Lewis is so much more then that.

To us, Ray Lewis is not only the heart and soul of the franchise but he is the heart and soul of our entire city. The intangibles are what make Ray Lewis and invaluable player and the reason I believe the Ravens should sign him.

Those who have been to M&T Bank stadium know how exciting the introduction of Ray Lewis makes the fan and rest of the team. He pumps up everyone around him, and none of the other players want to let him down.

Lewis makes other people around him better—just ask Edgerton Hartwell. After Lewis was hurt much of the 2004 season, Hartwell recorded his best season with over 100 tackles and publicly stated he did not want to be in Lewis’ shadow. Hartwell then signed with Atlanta, where he recorded 63 tackles in 13 games. Now he is out the league—maybe he should have stayed on the Ravens.

At what dollar amount do you measure intangibles? Well many Ravens fans are hoping that it is measured with whatever dollar amount Ray Lewis wants.

Ray Lewis has been on the Ravens 13 seasons, half of my adult life. He is my favorite player and the best middle linebacker of my era. All that being said, I would like see this franchise be a playoff contender for many years and believe they should do what is in the best interest of this club.

I am torn on the decision to bring back Lewis or not. In addition the other free agents I named, the Ravens will also look to address issues at wide receiver as well as cornerback. Signing Lewis could set this franchise back for as long as he plays.

I do think the Ravens will bring him back, and I will undoubtedly cheer for him until the day he retires, but is it the best for the franchise? This is the question that has Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, and fans like myself, tossing and turning in our sleep at night.