If I were general manager of the Ravens, I would let Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis become an unrestricted free agent. Forget all of this icon nonsense. If Jerry Rice and John Unitas could play in another jersey, so can Lewis. It's time for the Ravens to move on and allow this team to officially become John Harbaugh's.
The Ravens might have taken a step in that direction yesterday by cutting disgruntled veteran cornerback Chris McAlister, or were they releasing McAlister to free up $8 million against the salary cap to re-sign Lewis?
The Ravens have to play the public relations game. They don't have enough history and Super Bowl titles on their side, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who don't mind allowing their top veteran players to leave. Lewis is perhaps the best player in the Ravens' brief history, so the Ravens want to handle these negotiations with care.
So, here's my proposal: The Ravens should give Lewis, 33, a three-year contract worth $18 million. There will be no signing bonus, but every year that Lewis shows up for training camp on time, the $6 million salary becomes guaranteed, even if there is a players' strike. If Lewis can't play the final year of the contract, the Ravens still have to pay him the $6 million as a consultant or adviser. It's a fair and logical deal, with a possible great farewell present for the aging superstar.
A few months ago, I advocated the Ravens' putting the franchise tag on him, but that could put Lewis' salary up past $11 million for the 2009 season, which is a hefty raise over the $8.065 million outside linebacker Terrell Suggs received last season as the franchise player. Lewis isn't worth that kind of money.
He bulked up last season and played well except for the last month, but it's highly unlikely he can play at that weight again. At most, Lewis has two good seasons remaining. And if that's the case, and if he accepts the three-year, $18 million offer, he leaves with a lot of money in his pocket.
The former University of Miami star and all-but-certain Hall of Famer irritated some members of the Ravens' front office this month with his comments from the Pro Bowl about possibly playing with the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets.
It was posturing on Lewis' part, but definitely not needed. The Cowboys are reportedly interested in Lewis, but Dallas isn't going to pay him the $30 million over five years ($25 million guaranteed) that we heard about nearly a month ago. Dallas owner Jerry Jones is weird, but not stupid.
As for the Jets, new coach Rex Ryan loves Lewis, but it would be hard to justify paying the linebacker tons of money after the fiasco with star quarterback Brett Favre, who was supposed to take the Jets to the Super Bowl but couldn't even lead them to the playoffs.
So, the best option for Lewis and the Ravens is for Lewis to stay in Baltimore. He can remain the team leader and continue to have control over a defense that won't be led by Ryan. He can cement his legacy in a Ravens uniform before the final stop in Canton, Ohio.
But with the new contract, there should be stipulations by the Ravens. Because they have been extremely loyal to Lewis by renegotiating his contract five times, they should ask him to become more of a team player. With a decline in ability comes a decrease in power.
There should be no more demands from Lewis about which players to sign or draft and no more public statements criticizing the coaching staff or his teammates. And he should have to show up for major offseason minicamps and training camps.
If this deal is completed, the Ravens should slap the franchise tag on Suggs for a second straight season and allow fellow outside linebacker Bart Scott to hit the free-agent market.
It all makes perfectly good sense, but the Ravens won't come in this low. They'll probably offer Lewis a three-year deal worth slightly more than $8 million a season, which is too high. Lewis, though, will still say no, and he'll ask for about $9 million a season for the next three years.
That's way too high. Actually, it's downright ridiculous. Somewhere, though, the two sides will have to find a meeting point. If this were solely general manager Ozzie Newsome's deal, the offer would be more in line with my proposal. But I've always gotten the impression owner Steve Bisciotti, Lewis' friend, will interfere and Lewis will get overpaid just to remain a Raven.
It's a shame, because the Ravens could use that money elsewhere. This is supposed to be about business, and over the years Lewis has earned big money. Now it's someone else's turn. And if Lewis wants the sky, the Ravens should either make a reasonable proposal or allow him to hit the road.