The Ravens cut running back Jamal Lewis yesterday, but the salary cap-related move doesn't signal the exit for the franchise's all-time leading rusher.
Faced with few options in the free-agent market, the Ravens will continue talks in an effort to bring back Lewis, whose production has declined the past few seasons.
"We are involved in negotiations with Jamal Lewis, and there has been good dialogue," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Jamal has been a significant contributor to us in the last seven seasons. It's our hope to have him back with the Ravens."
The sides had been trying for the past week to restructure Lewis' deal before Saturday, when the running back would have been due to receive a $5 million roster bonus.
By releasing Lewis, the Ravens create $8.3 million in additional salary cap space, which should allow them to address their needs at outside linebacker and offensive tackle when free agency begins tomorrow.
Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel, said the running back's release yesterday won't hurt the negotiation process.
"It's been indicated to us that they would like to have Jamal back and Jamal would like to be there," Frankel said. "So I think there's a good chance that he could be back."
Meanwhile, the outlook for keeping offensive tackle Tony Pashos isn't as promising.
Pashos' agent, Rick Smith, said the starting right tackle will go elsewhere because the Ravens don't have enough cap room to re-sign him. This comes days after outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said he would be leaving as a free agent because the Ravens didn't have the money to retain him.
The Ravens are approximately $11 million under the cap, which is still less than most teams in the league.
"Tony definitely will no longer be a member of the Baltimore Ravens," Smith said. "He is in the same situation as Adalius Thomas. Based on the Ravens' cap situation and the expected interest in the market, they would have to restructure or cut guys. And they have a good foundation there."
Pashos, 26, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003, finished last season as a full-time starter.
He exceeded expectations with his workmanlike attitude, which might earn him a sizable contract in a thin free-agent market. Stability at right tackle has been a problem for the Ravens, who have gone through five starters in seven seasons (Pashos, Orlando Brown, Ethan Brooks, Kipp Vickers and Harry Swayne).
Newsome said the Ravens are not resigned to losing Pashos.
"I honestly don't know," Newsome said. "At some point last year, we didn't think we would get [linebacker] Bart Scott back, but we did. You just never know."
Pashos' agent said the Ravens never gave him an offer before free agency because they didn't want to insult him with a below-market contract.
"When free agency begins, we expect Tony to be signed elsewhere in seven to 10 days," Smith said. "There is no animosity with the Ravens. Ozzie was upfront with us through the process. This is a business decision and not a football one. They really liked Tony."
Unlike Pashos' situation, the Ravens and Lewis are more optimistic about getting a deal done.
It's unknown how much interest Lewis would command as a free agent. Before re-signing with the Ravens last season, Lewis had only one free-agent visit scheduled (with the Denver Broncos).
Lewis, 27, has not been the same running back over the past two seasons, when he failed to average 4.0 yards a carry. But there is hope that he could rebound this season because he will enter minicamps healthier than he has been in years.
The Ravens could have a difficult time finding a viable replacement for Lewis, who was the NFL's 16th-leading rusher last season. The available running backs in free agency are considered a weak group.
The only experienced running back under contract with the Ravens is Mike Anderson, who played a limited role for the team last season. So even if the Ravens re-signed Lewis, that doesn't preclude them from selecting a running back in the draft.
Before getting cut, Lewis was scheduled to make $5 million in base salary this season along with the $5 million bonus.
Said Frankel: "Jamal would love to be with the Ravens until the end of his career."
Hopeful he'll re-sign
The Ravens cut Jamal Lewis (above) to avoid paying a $5 million roster bonus that would have been due Saturday.
The team will continue to try to re-sign Lewis at a lower salary. "It's our hope to have him back with the Ravens," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.