THE RAVENS have always supported running back Jamal Lewis, and now he wants to repay the organization for its loyalty. In the past five years, the club has remained confident in Lewis despite major knee and ankle surgeries, two violations of the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse policy and a four-month prison term.
Enough has been enough.
Lewis wants to repay the Ravens, and in return, the Ravens will pay him back. In the final year of his contract, Lewis admitted Wednesday for the first time that he accepted his plea bargain agreement with federal authorities in October because the Ravens guaranteed that his short prison term would not affect a new contract offer or his status with the team.
Lewis said he also spoke with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue about any further punishments before pleading guilty to using a cell phone to facilitate a cocaine deal.
Lewis said the Ravens showed loyalty, which is something we don't see a lot of in modern-day sports.
Of course, the Ravens have a lot invested in Lewis, but they easily could have pushed him out, and no one would have blamed them because of Lewis' troubled past.
"Before I even took the plea bargain, I had my lawyers call the Ravens and say, 'Is this going to have anything to do with my contract, because that's my livelihood?' " said Lewis, 25, who rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003.
"So, therefore, if it did, or if there was an 'Ah ... um,' then I would have never took it [the plea bargain]. I would have tried to beat it in court. That's where I was with the whole thing."
According to Lewis, Ravens president Richard Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome assured him that contract negotiations would restart as soon as Lewis returned to the team, and the talks have begun. Lewis signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract in July 2000.
But Lewis just didn't recall the Ravens' words while he was in prison. He watched their actions. He noticed they didn't select a running back in the draft or add one through free agency.
He believes the two sides can work out a new contract soon.
"I'm sure in any other circumstances, some other team might have went out and got another running back," said Lewis, who also had offseason ankle surgery and has had two major knee surgeries (1998 and 2001). "They might have thought, 'he's got an ankle injury,' or that 'he might not come back in shape.' But they have confidence in me."
Lewis is close to 100 percent and in great shape. He has a look of determination in his eyes much like middle linebacker Ray Lewis' after his trial in Atlanta before the 2000 season.
Ray Lewis' body was not only sculpted back then, but he also was thick and bulky. Jamal Lewis, all 5 feet 11 and 245 pounds, looks the same way. There's not much fat.
Since returning to the Ravens on Aug. 9, Lewis said he has received nothing but fan support, though his travel has been limited to Atlanta and Baltimore.
"I'm on a mission, out to prove what I've always done with the Ravens, and that's prove people wrong," Lewis said. "I want to prove that Ozzie Newsome and this organization were right to stand behind me.
"I know there are people ... waiting to see me fail, people waiting to see me lose a step. ... But my fans, who supported me through this ordeal, they are waiting to see me explode."
The old Lewis hasn't exploded a lot in training camp, but we've seen glimpses. The Ravens have gradually worked him back into the starting rotation, and you see more and more of his bursts.
But Lewis still walks with a limp on the field and admits to having some pain. All of that should go away in time.
"The ankle is a little bit sore. Monday might have been the first time I ran some real plays and actually got between the lines, and did some real football moves," Lewis said. "It's going to take a few more practices to really get that movement, break up some of that scar tissue and get it going. If I had to play tomorrow, I would be able to play."
Instead, Lewis' goal is to be 100 percent for the Ravens' season opener Sept. 11 in Baltimore against the Indianapolis Colts.
He might play a few plays against the Philadelphia Eagles tomorrow night, and should get more playing time in the final two preseason games.
But the real mission starts in that nationally televised opener. Lewis has waited for this moment. He wants redemption on a national stage.
"A lot of people know that something happened four or five years ago, and that somebody was trying to build their name off it, and they did. Congratulations," Lewis said.
"At the same time, I'm back and doing what I like to do. I get to prove my doubters wrong, and show my fans and our organization that they were right, that they are the people who know what kind of person I am on and off the field.
"I just want to have another good season and hopefully go to another Super Bowl. I think I owe the Ravens that."