As the options for Ray Lewis continued to dwindle, the agent for the Pro Bowl linebacker said Lewis would consider returning to the Ravens.
"He couldn't think more highly of Baltimore," agent David Dunn said yesterday. "He's played in that city for so many years. He's so symbolic of the team."
Although Dunn declined to comment on negotiations, it is believed the Ravens have offered a three-year, $24 million contract, a deal that Lewis could end up signing tomorrow. Barring a surprising turn in free agency, the Ravens likely represent the biggest payday for the 33-year-old veteran and the best opportunity for him to win another Super Bowl.
The two teams most heavily linked to Lewis before the start of free agency - the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets - are no longer in the market for inside linebackers. The Cowboys signed veteran Keith Brooking to a three-year deal yesterday, and the Jets locked up Bart Scott on Friday.
There have been questions about the demand for Lewis in free agency because he has no scheduled visits after the first two days. Dunn explained that Lewis had long decided to stay in Florida this weekend because of family obligations, which include attending his children's sporting events.
Dunn also dismissed any notion of a rift between Lewis and the Ravens.
The NFL Network and Yahoo Sports reported Friday that Lewis was upset with the progress on a new contract with the Ravens. According to the NFL Network, Lewis would contemplate retirement before returning to the Ravens.
But Dunn said Lewis is not angry with the team.
"Of course he has deep affection for them," Dunn said. "To indicate otherwise is absurd."
It appears Lewis' options beyond the Ravens are limited.
The Denver Broncos, whose defensive coordinator is former Ravens assistant Mike Nolan, immediately signed an inside linebacker, but it was Andra Davis, a former Cleveland Brown. Because Nolan plans to use a 3-4 defense, the Broncos could still use another inside linebacker, although they reportedly haven't contacted Lewis.
Another possibility could be the New England Patriots, who opened up salary cap space yesterday by trading quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots might look for someone to replace inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who seems to be nearing the end of his career.
But the teams currenly seeking a middle linebacker are the Chiefs, Browns, St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions.
Those teams are rebuilding this season and might look to the draft for a linebacker. And even if they wanted Lewis, they couldn't promise immediate success as the Ravens can (the Chiefs, Browns, Rams and Lions finished in last place in their divisions and combined for eight wins).
Lewis likely would intrigue only teams that felt they were on the cusp of a championship. At this point in his career, Lewis' best asset is leadership. According to ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, Lewis' weakness "lies inside the white lines."
"He doesn't turn and run like he once did," Hoge said. "He doesn't dominate like he once did. He doesn't get off blocks like he once did. He doesn't have the same range, the same speed, the same quickness."
Hoge suggested it's in Lewis' best interest to remain with the Ravens.
"Even though his skills have eroded, I think it would be much more magnified somewhere else than in Baltimore because of the familiarity," Hoge said. "Learning new players and a new system, I think those diminished skills would be more visible."
Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly agreed and said the "smartest move" for Lewis is to go back to the Ravens.
"They will pay him more money than anybody else because of his leadership ability and what he's done for the franchise," Casserly said in an NFL Network appearance.
While Lewis remained unsigned, four inside linebackers struck deals: Scott (six years, $48 million), Brooking (three years, $6 million), Davis (terms undisclosed) and the New Orleans Saints' Jonathan Vilma (five years, $34 million).
Scott surprisingly received the largest contract even though he went to just one Pro Bowl (2006) and never led a team in tackles.
But Casserly said "it's not even a question" that he would pursue Scott over Lewis because Scott is 5 years younger.
When asked why the Jets chose Scott over Lewis, Ryan explained that Scott is younger and can play inside or outside linebacker.
"At the end of the day, both of them are outstanding players," Ryan told Jets reporters.
Dunn declined to put a timetable on when Lewis would make a decision, but he said the two were to talk last night and today.
"I know he's certainly exited excited about the future," Dunn said.
Note: : The Ravens continued talks with free-agent offensive tackle Marvel Smith, 30, the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting left tackle for nine seasons. If the Ravens sign Smith, it could lead to the release of Willie Anderson, which would free up $2.9 million of salary cap space. ... Jason Brown, the Ravens' starting center last season, officially signed his five-year, $37.5 million contract with St. Louis. "To tell you the truth, I was hoping to stay at home with the Ravens," Brown said at his Rams news conference. "Many players would like to stay with the team that drafted them and would like to finish their careers there. ... Unfortunately, there's a separation between business and the personal side of football, and they had to make a business decision."