Keep those #52 jerseys for 5 more years…

November 04, 2008 | Drew Forrester

The deal isn’t signed, but it might as well be.

Ray Lewis isn’t going anywhere when the 2008 season comes to a close.

Since starting the season WITHOUT a contract for 2009 and beyond, there has been speculation in Baltimore that #52 might be on his way out…as the team defers to a younger (and cheaper) linebacking corps headed by Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott.

It’s not gonna happen that way.

Ray’s staying.  And he’ll eventually wind up inking a 5-year deal that will help the team fork over a mammoth signing bonus and yet not strap the team salary-cap wise through 2013.

As for Suggs and Scott…who knows, they MIGHT stay too.

But if there’s a pecking order – and make no mistake about it, there IS – you can rest assured that Ray is at the front.

A Ravens official confirmed all of this with me earlier this week by saying, “Ray’s going to be in Baltimore next year and for a while after that…it’s been discussed and reviewed and nothing has changed in our mind. Ray is going to be here and he’s going to finish his career in purple.  We know the numbers, financially, and we’re going to make them work.”

Makes sense to me.

He’s been so good for so long they should just permanently re-name the team the “Ray-vens”.

And this year, in particular, he’s ramped up his game and geared down his talk.  Gone are the days when Ray would throw out cryptic hints about money, his future and the possibilities of having to do business elsewhere.

I guess the promise of a $16 million dollar signing bonus can make a man see things a bit more clearly, huh?  

As one Ravens’ staffer said, succinctly: “Ray’s value to us is much higher than it would be with any other team in the league.”  Agreed.  He’s been to this franchise what Johnny Unitas was to the old Colts franchise. 

None of this should come as much of a surprise.  Owner Steve Bisciotti has talked openly – in interviews with Baltimore newspaper and radio – of hoping to sign Ray to a long-term deal that would keep #52 in purple and reward him for the decade-plus work he’s done in Baltimore.  

Ray deserves every penny of whatever he gets at the end of this season.

He’s the best player in the history of the franchise and arguably the best player in the league since 1996.

As for Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, it’s a shame their paydays might be diminished by Ray’s deal, but that’s the price you pay when you’re working in concert with a Hall of Famer.  In the end, though, both of those players will make a nice salary in 2009 and beyond in large part BECAUSE of #52, not in spite of him.

“Ray’s not going anywhere…” was another comment offered to me.  “We want him to finish his career in Baltimore and Ray wants to finish here too.  And we think Ray still has a lot of good football left – and so does he.  Ray’s going to retire a Raven, plain and simple.”

The status of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement and the potential for an uncapped season in 2011 makes it even more difficult for teams to enter into long term contracts with players right now…but the Ravens want Ray Lewis and Ray, well – Ray wants to get paid…in Baltimore.  Barring a change in heart by either party, you can keep those #52 jerseys clean and break ’em out every September for the next few years.

I’m glad that issue has been put to rest.

Now, back to the playoff hunt.