Mouth leaves Lewis trying to save face

The Baltimore Sun

This could have been a great week in the life of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. He could have had one more big payday and a legacy in Baltimore that would have put him in the same class with John Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr.

But instead of celebrating a new contract and enhancing his iconic status, Lewis was embarrassed on the first day of free agency because none of the other 31 teams in the NFL offered him a contract.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn't call. Neither did former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the New York Jets' coach, who courted the Ravens' "other linebacker," Bart Scott.

Lewis' world came to a halt yesterday amid rumors he was furious about the way he was treated during negotiations and would retire before playing for the Ravens again.

But he has only himself to blame. He turned favorable negotiations into a public relations nightmare.

It started to turn against Lewis at the Pro Bowl when he spoke on TV about how it was his dream to play for Dallas or how he could join Ryan. Then last week, there was the story saying Lewis for the past two years repeatedly told a Dallas player he wanted to be a Cowboy and needed Jones' phone number.

It was posturing by Lewis, and it backfired. Ravens fans were irate. Lewis insulted the franchise that supported him during his legal troubles nine years ago and also offended owner Steve Bisciotti. Talk shows were filled with disenchanted fans who wanted Lewis out or didn't care whether he returned.

This all could have been avoided if Lewis had kept his mouth shut.

He had this town and franchise right where he wanted them. Lewis had just come off a Pro Bowl season and helped the Ravens to the AFC championship game. A team source said the Ravens offered Lewis $24 million for three years, which is $2 million more a season than I would have offered him.

He turned it down. Lewis wants more. Even without an agreement, Lewis could have parted with icon status. We all have families. We all have bills. Fans understand the economics of pro sports when superstars leave for more money.

In a way, it was sad. Lewis has been one of the NFL's most dominant players since he was a first-round pick by the Ravens in 1996. But with fame comes ego, and Lewis tried to sweat the Ravens for one more big payday.

He played well last season, but no one will confuse the Lewis of 2008 with the Lewis of 2000. He slowed down during the final month last season. The only players getting big contracts after the age of 33 are quarterbacks.

Lewis tried to bluff, and the Ravens called him on it. They saw what everyone else in the league saw: a player past his prime who might have two good seasons left. Apparently, Ryan felt the same way, which is why the Jets signed the younger Scott to a six-year, $48 million contract yesterday.

That keeps the door open for Lewis' return. He might have to grovel, but the Ravens will keep that private. Fans will forgive him as soon as he makes 10 tackles in the season opener. But he didn't have to go through this embarrassment.

Yet, the only one to blame is Lewis, who lost the public relations game.

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