Ravens: “We’re reluctant to franchise Ray”

January 21, 2009 | Drew Forrester

The year-end press conference at Owings Mills today didn’t produce much real news.  There were questions about nearly every facet of the organization and most of those were summed up here in Nestor’s live blog from 1 Winning Drive.

The hot button topic with Owner Steve Bisciotti centered on the team’s desire to re-sign Ray Lewis and to what extent Bisciotti will be involved in those discussions.

“We want Ray to sign here and we’re confident he will, “Bisciotti said,  “But that’s ultimately up to Ozzie to work out in concert with Ray’s agent.”

Both Bisciotti and a Ravens official commented on the potential use of the “franchise tag” for Lewis if the team fails to sign him to a deal by late February.

“Again, that’s really Ozzie’s area, but I don’t see franchising Ray as our best solution,” Bisciotti remarked.

A Ravens staffer told me later: “We’d be reluctant to franchise Ray simply due to the fact that we’re not looking to have a yearly negotiating session with him.  Ozzie and his agent will strike a deal or they won’t. Putting the franchise tag on him only puts off it for another year and Ray’s not getting any younger.”

One veteran Ravens player told me on Monday that Ray spoke about “next year” with several of the players following Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.  “There wasn’t one moment where he said, ‘If I’m here next year’ or ‘if we’re all together again next year’ when he spoke after the game.  Everything was ‘this is what we need to do next season and here’s what we learned this year that we can carry over to next year’. Ray will be back. His heart lives in Baltimore.” 

Rumors continue to float around about the Dallas Cowboys having interest in Ray Lewis, but those stories are as wild as tales of the tooth fairy and Jack and the Beanstalk.  For starters, the Cowboys can not even talk with Lewis or his agent until March 1st.  And, if the league learned that Dallas officials have engaged in conversations with Lewis about 2009 and beyond, tampering charges would be filed and the verdict would be quick and decisive.  The Cowboys franchise would suffer greatly if they were found guilty of that kind of conduct.

Don’t believe for one minute that the Dallas Cowboys have talked to Ray Lewis about a $25 million contract/signing bonus, because they haven’t.

That’s not to say that Dallas might not make him an offer if Ray becomes a free agent in March.

But, for now, the only team permitted to negotiate with Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens and they plan on doing everything they can to have him signed prior to the beginning of the March 1st free agency period.

Last summer, the Ravens proposed a new contract to Lewis that included a $12 million signing bonus and #52 politely declined.  His agent floated the $20 million figure out there and the Ravens politely declined.

I’m sure Ray’s price tag has gone up now that the Ravens have produced a 13-6 season and advanced to the AFC title game.  That’s the gamble Ozzie took when he offered a $12 million bonus last August.  

If it doesn’t get settled soon, things might not be so polite in March.

Ray Lewis will sign with the Ravens and finish his career in Baltimore.  But it’s going to cost the Ravens some serious money.