Jamal Lewis has taken a ton of hits over the years as a between-the-tackles running back in the NFL for the last decade, and he feels like he is ready to move on to other more fortunate-and safer-endeavors in his life.
Lewis, the Ravens’ all-time leading rusher, spent the last three seasons with the Cleveland Browns after the Ravens released Lewis in February of 2007.
After being released by the Browns in February, Lewis and a business partner just recently invested in a hotel and water park in Columbus, Ohio called Fort Rapids Indoor WaterPark Resort.
Before tackling business propositions, Lewis was the anchor of Brian Billick’s offense from 2000-2007, in which Lewis ran for 7,801 yards in six seasons after Baltimore drafted Lewis out of the University of Tennessee with the fifth pick in the 2000 NFL draft.
In his rookie season, Lewis quickly usurped Priest Holmes as the starter, and was heavily leaned on in the Ravens’ Super Bowl run in 2000, as he recorded 1364 yards and 6 TDs in 13 starts.
His success forced the Ravens not to resign Holmes, who quickly left to have a great couple years in Kansas City. It was only after that decision to not resign Holmes that Lewis tore his knee in training camp, and the Ravens, with no running game in 2001, failed to defend their Super Bowl title as quarterback Elvis Grbac was asked to put the offense on his shoulders.
You all know how that worked out.
After coming back healthy, Lewis’ best year came in 2003, when Lewis was basically the Ravens’ offense. He became the fifth running back to reach 2000 yards rushing in a season, joining the likes of O.J Simpson, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, and Barry Sanders.
He added fourteen touchdowns that year, and also set a then-single game rushing record, when he rushed for 295 yards against the Browns( recently broken by Adrian Peterson of the Vikings against the Chargers).
He earned the Offensive Player of the Year Award, as well as the NFL Writers Association MVP Award( the AP NFL MVP went to Peyton Manning and Steve McNair that year.)
And with Chris Johnson of Tennessee joining him in that elite company last year, Lewis said that Johnson would certainly be a guy he would build his team around based on his pure athletic ability.
“I’d take him just because of his speed,” Lewis told Thyrl Nelson of WNST Thursday. They’re giving him the ball, they’re throwing the ball to him on the outside, he can run with it. He can score probably from anywhere on the field due to his speed.
And he even threw a little respect to a current Raven running back as well as Johnson.
“Him and Ray Rice, those would be my two guys.”
No running back in NFL history has ever rushed for 2000 yards in consecutive seasons, but if Lewis feels like anyone can do it, Johnson can, but it’s not going to be easy, he said.
“To go through a 2000 yard season, it’s a lot of work first of all. It’s a lot of yards, but we call it miles. It’s a lot of miles on the body. It’s a lot of hits.”
“It is possible to go in and run for another 2000 yards, but it’s going to be way much harder than it was to go and try and do that. Guys are going to key on you, and defenses are not going to let you come in and just run over them. They already know what you’re capable of.”
And that’s what opposing defenses did to Lewis after 2003. Lewis’ numbers, and his popularity in Baltimore, began to dip over his final years as a Raven.
The following year, he barely reached 1000 yards in 12 starts, and for the first time in his career, he missed a 1000 yard season in 2005 as ankle problems stopped the shifty, bruising running back’s ability to cut and hit the hole.
And despite reaching his potential in his final year as a Raven in 2006, getting back to 1132 yards rushing, the Ravens saw his 3.4 yards per carry as a concern and decided to go another route, releasing their franchise leader in rushing yards.
Lewis wore out his welcome in Baltimore fast despite his earlier success due to his contract concerns, his poor production and decline at times on the field in his later years, and a poor attitude.
Things got worse in 2004-2005 when he was cited for conspiring to distribute crack cocaine while he was in Atlanta, and for that, Lewis served a four month sentence in a halfway house. It was incidents like that, along with him breaking down after 400 carries in 2003, that rushed him out of Baltimore and to division-rival Cleveland in 2007.
In his first year in Cleveland, Lewis had a chip on his shoulder, and with no competition around him, he saw a resurgence of the Lewis of old. He reached the 1,300 yard mark with Cleveland and for the second straight year in a row had nine rushing scores.
But again, as injuries, old age, and an attitude that sometimes got him in trouble, Cleveland soon grew tired of Lewis as well, and Lewis saw the last two years in Cleveland competing with the likes of Jerome Harrison and others.
Back in November after a concussion ended his season, Lewis announced his retirement from the NFL at the conclusion of the year. However, Lewis has yet to turn in his retirement papers to the NFL, and the only reason why he is out of football right now is due to the fact that Cleveland released him in February.
He finished his career-or his stats currently stand at-10,607 rushing yards, 62 total touchdowns, and a 4.2 yards-per-carry average.
With the injuries mounting up on him over the years, Lewis feels like he is done.
“Due to my injury, it’s been steering me away from putting the helmet back on.”
And now he has a chance to be a fan of the NFL, which he enjoys. And he has kept a big eye on what his original franchise in Baltimore has been doing this off-season in an attempt to get back to the Super Bowl, which Lewis helped carry them to a decade ago.
“The Ravens made some good good moves in Anquan Boldin, to come in and help balance the attack with Ray Rice,” Lewis said. “You still have Derrick Mason, who is a great great player. He’s an older guy, but he can still move the ball and catch and run with it. All around, it’s really up to them how far they want to go, especially with the field cop in Ray Lewis leading the way.”
Lewis said he would have loved to have a team of this firepower years ago, but he did admit he would have definitely not achieved his 2,000 yard season with a Joe Flacco on this team, a record and distinciton of his that is very close to his heart.
“But with an Anquan Boldin and a Derrick Mason, and some guys over there like Joe Flacco throwing the ball down field, I don’t think I could have come out with a 2,000 yard season.”
But he said his time in Baltimore could have lasted a bit longer, as well as his career as a whole, if the team had this kind of balance when he was lining up in the backfield.
“It would have been a better situation than I think. We could have had a longer winning streak if we had that kind of talent and the kind of balance that they’re putting in place now.”
He has been paying attention to the buzz surrounding the team, and how many people think this team might go to the Super Bowl. But he warned this Ravens team not to buy into all that attention just yet, because that’s all it is.
No team knows where they’re going, but every team wants to go in a certain direction,” Lewis said. “Whatever people say about what they’re going to do this season, or how far they’re going to go, I think its just hype.”
“But at the same time, due to free agency and the moves made around the league, the sorriest team could be the best team the next year.”
And now, as a hotel and water-park entrepenuer, Lewis and his business partners will be taking a lot of calls and reservations.
Lewis will just have to wait to see if there are reservations for him not only in the Ravens Ring of Honor, but maybe Canton as well.
Tune into WNST and WNST.net for more Ravens news as training camp starts next week! WNST-We Never Stop Talking about our Ravens-Past or Present!