No. 52 take flight? Nevermore

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief this week with the signing of linebacker Ray Lewis to a three-year, $22 million contract. Not only has he been a dominant force on defense since his arrival in 1996, but his importance as a leader on the field extends far beyond his pregame dance. He's not only the straw that stirs the drink, he's the high-speed blender that has turned a talented collection of players into a formidable force.

In the era of free agency, it's rare that a star player remains with a single team for his whole career. That's part of what made the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. such a beloved figure in Maryland. Now, it appears Mr. Lewis will be a Raven for life - and by extension, a fellow Baltimore icon.

As happy as all parties appear to be with that outcome, it looked doubtful just weeks ago. Other NFL teams had expressed interest in the future Hall of Famer, and he in them. The Ravens were not willing to break the bank to keep their star player, a prudent choice given that Mr. Lewis has endured 13 long seasons of punishment - though, fortunately for him, more often inflicting the big hits than receiving them.

All parties acted honorably in this process. Mr. Lewis sought to boost his pay while the Ravens' Ozzie Newsome looked out for the long-term interests of the franchise. The Ravens general manager demonstrated why one should never invite him to play high-stakes poker. He stayed cool, ignored the bluffs and got his terms, and now Baltimore football fans can feel like winners, too.

Some may believe Mr. Lewis' courtship with other teams cost him goodwill in the community, but Baltimoreans are a forgiving lot who understand that while football is a game, the NFL is a business. In the end, the fact that No. 52 will remain in Ravens purple and the Ravens didn't have to ruin their salary cap position to do it is all that matters.

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