Former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan used to call it "Ray's World," because it's all about Ray Lewis. And in his world, the seven-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker has been beating the drums in an effort to be traded. No one should be alarmed. We've been writing about this for months.
This is being perfectly choreographed by Lewis, almost as well as his pre-game dance. And if the Ravens are smart, they'll oblige and trade Lewis. The Ravens have a lot of holes to fill, but only two draft picks in the first 110 selections.
So if they can get a couple of picks for Lewis, and unless they can trade up from No. 13 to No. 7 to get Texas quarterback Vince Young (keep an eye on that situation), then go for it. Trade Lewis. Make his day.
Unfortunately, and this might disturb the man who likes to speak about himself in the third person, nobody wants to give up much for Ray Lewis. He's like an old penny. The Ravens tried to trade him earlier this year but couldn't get more than a second-round pick. If that offer comes up again, now or on draft day, then they should take it and run.
Run like hell.
Right now, the Ravens are stuck. Everyone knows that Lewis is a malcontent, and his skills are fading. Who wants to mortgage the future for the past?
Only three years ago, the Ravens signed Lewis to a seven-year contract that included a $19 million signing bonus. But the word around NFL circles is that Lewis is having cash-flow problems and needs another huge payday. He has tried to restructure his deal the past two seasons, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has adamantly declined.
But that's only part of the problem.
Lewis is also disgruntled about the way this franchise has fallen since winning the Super Bowl in January 2001. He has watched teammates come into meetings late, and then fall asleep, first physically in the classroom and then mentally on game day. He has watched the offense struggle for years, and he knows, like most of the players, that Kyle Boller wasn't and never will be the answer.
Lewis doesn't like Billick and hasn't for years, and has lost faith in his ability to lead. He said in a Thursday interview with ESPN that the Ravens no longer protect him with big defensive tackles that allowed him to run free and make tackles sideline to sideline.
According to a team source, Lewis or a representative called team officials 20 minutes before Wednesday's news conference about the draft and asked to be traded.
Smart move, Ray.
But that's exactly why the Ravens need to trade Lewis. He'll probably be stomping his feet and complaining until the season opens. The Ravens don't need this headache. Lewis has already been a disruptive force in the locker room the past two seasons. Teammates won't complain about him publicly, but privately they hate the star status Billick created for him and others like Deion Sanders and Ed Reed.
Unlike other players, Lewis has two lockers. Nolan used to fax the game plan to him every Monday night during the season. There were rules for some players, and rules for others. Lewis made his own.
It was Ray's World.
That was OK when Lewis was the best football player on the planet. But that hasn't been the case for about three years. In the ESPN interview he called himself the "Michael Jordan of football." He must have been referring to when Jordan was with the Washington Wizards.
It's hard to strip a superstar of his power, especially since Lewis was the face of this organization. He has been the consummate professional throughout his career in Baltimore. No one trained harder in the offseason.
He didn't just tackle running backs, he took away their desire to play against him. He added another dimension to playing middle linebacker because of his speed. He helped bring a championship back to Baltimore, one of the NFL's most storied franchises.
But this is an organization that will begin a new era of Ravens football soon because some of the players have gotten old. Lewis is still better than 80 percent of the middle linebackers in the league, but he has basically missed two of the past four seasons with injuries. When he was out most of last season with a hamstring/groin injury, his teammates were on a mission to prove they could win without him.
Inside linebackers Bart Scott and Tommy Polley didn't complain, they just played and scrapped every game.
At the end of last season, owner Steve Bisciotti chose to bring back Billick instead of siding with many players who wanted a change. According to a team source, Lewis swore before the end of the season that he would do everything possible to not play for the Ravens in 2006 if Billick returned.
The Ravens have tried to play down Lewis' recent comments. They don't want to overreact because they still might have to play with him. But inside, they are fuming. Lewis has said he has never asked the Ravens for a trade, which contradicts statements made by Newsome earlier this year.
On Wednesday, Lewis had a chance to publicly endorse Billick, perceived by many as a lame duck in 2006, but he declined to comment, further adding to speculation that he is unhappy with his coach.
Through the offseason, Lewis has been letting his game plan leak out. He wants out. Ray Lewis wants a new contract, a new team and a scheme built around Ray Lewis.
It's Ray's World.
He can no longer live off the $5.5 million he will make this season, and the $6.5 million he'll earn in each of 2007 and 2008. Poor guy. If he really wanted to be dominant again, maybe he should take less so the Ravens can sign some big-name defensive tackles to put in front of him.
That will never happen. But on a team that has a lot of pressing needs, acquiring more draft picks would be more significant than keeping around an aging middle linebacker who has alienated teammates and fans.
It's time for the Ravens to get back to the team concept. If possible, make a trade, and move Ray's World to another ZIP code before it festers and becomes a problem in Baltimore.