The reshaping of the Ravens began to take place yesterday when starting outside linebacker Jamie Sharper and return specialist Jermaine Lewis were placed on the expansion list for possible selection by the Houston Texans, according to a league source.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations, would not confirm that the two were among a list of five submitted by the Ravens to the league. The agents for both players were not available to comment last night.
The Texans, scheduled to begin play next season, will choose players in the expansion draft Feb. 18. Teams were supposed to submit their lists by yesterday. The NFL will make the lists public Friday.
The source said Houston is highly interested in Sharper and would most likely select him, which would break up one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL with Sharper, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware.
The Ravens are nearly $21 million over the salary cap with only 30 players under contract. Sharper's cap number is $3.8 million for next season, and Jermaine Lewis is expected to count $4.16 million against the cap in 2002.
The cap number includes a player's base salary and the prorated portion of any signing bonus spread over the length of his contract.
Lewis did not return phone calls last night.
Sharper said he wasn't surprised by the Ravens' move.
"When we did my last deal during last off-season, the Ravens told me there might be a chance that they would put me on the expansion list and let the new team pick up the contract," said Sharper, 27. "I wanted to come back to the Ravens because we had a good chance of repeating, and I wanted to be a part of that. But we didn't get it done.
"I would like to remain in Baltimore, but if that doesn't happen, then I look forward to my new challenge in Houston."
Sharper, one of the Ravens' two second-round draft picks in 1997, finished with 134 tackles, second on the team this season behind Ray Lewis' 192. Sharper, who has developed into one of the best weak-side linebackers in the game, also had six sacks and knocked down 12 passes.
Jermaine Lewis' contract was restructured last off-season, and he took on a reduced role in 2001. Previously, he played wide receiver in addition to returning punts and kicks, but coach Brian Billick wanted him solely as a returner.
Lewis, also 27, was one of the Ravens' top weapons during the second half of this season, and he averaged 12.4 yards a punt return and 24.7 on kickoffs.
Lewis, from the University of Maryland, was a fifth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 1996. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance as a return specialist in 1998 in a career that has been hampered by minor injuries.
The league source said the Ravens would like for Lewis to take another pay cut, and that his salary for next season is more indicative of a starting wide receiver than a top return specialist.