'Nobody else's business'

The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, FLA. - In his first comments to the Baltimore media this offseason, Ray Lewis yesterday was noncommittal about his chances of staying with the Ravens.

Lewis, 33, will become an unrestricted free agent in 29 days unless the Ravens use the franchise tag on him or the Pro Bowl linebacker strikes a new deal with the team. It would mark the first time in Lewis' 13-year career that the face of the Ravens' franchise reached free agency.

"What I'm thinking, nobody needs to know," said Lewis, who was at the Super Bowl promoting Xbox 360 and the Madden Bowl. "I've given my prayers to God. It's between me and him. It's nobody else's business. That's between me and God."

Lewis' situation likely will go down as the biggest offseason story line in Ravens history. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti as well as former and current teammates have talked publicly about Lewis' future.

At his season-ending news conference, Bisciotti said he has been "hopeful forever" that the Ravens would sign Lewis to a new deal and didn't foresee using the franchise tag to keep him off the free-agent market.

Asked about the franchise tag, Lewis shrugged his shoulders.

"I just hope they do whatever is best for the organization," he said. "Take me out of it."

So, Lewis wouldn't mind the tag?

"It doesn't matter," he said. "It's whatever God has in his plans."

Players designated with the franchise tag are forced to accept a one-year contract at a salary based on the average of the NFL's five highest-paid players at that position.

Fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs recently said all three free-agent linebackers (Lewis, Suggs and Bart Scott) could stay together if they gave the Ravens "a home discount."

"What he really is talking about is a brotherhood," Lewis said.

"That's the reason why we played so passionately. There's a commitment to each other. A lot of times in life, you don't like to see that go. But it's business. It happens."

Bisciotti also suggested the possibility of receiving a hometown discount from the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Asked whether he intended to test the free-agent market if he isn't franchised, Lewis said: "It's irrelevant. I haven't had any emotions about it. For me to talk about it, that would be selfish."

Lewis had one of his best seasons in recent years, finishing with 117 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

But this season was one of Lewis' favorites because of what the Ravens were able to accomplish.

"This was one of the rides because you had doubts early about whether the coaching could mesh and whether [Joe] Flacco could play," Lewis said with a smile.

"As a team, we said: 'Let's just go play and see how good we could be. Everybody is picking us to be last in the division anyway, so why not go play?' That's what's fun - being the underdog."

Though the Ravens fell one game short of reaching the Super Bowl, the championship memories hit Lewis yesterday.

He returned to Tampa, the site of the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants eight years ago. He said he could still envision the confetti falling.

"Once you're a champion, you never forget that feeling," he said.

Lewis also made the point that whatever happens, he'll never forget his relationship with the fans of Baltimore.

"I love my city, know that," Lewis said. "It will always be my city."

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