Ravens in the no-budge zone with Ray?

February 16, 2009 | Drew Forrester

The Ravens aren’t looking to fight with Ray Lewis.

In fact, they’re looking to avoid a confrontation by doing the one thing that keeps the relationship copacetic:  signing Ray to a new contract.

That’s the good news.  Despite what’s transpired over the last three weeks, with Ray traipsing around the country trying to peddle his wares to a variety of possible-takers, the Ravens are still Pro-52.  They want him back.

The bad news?  Back in August, the Ravens offered Ray a deal that included a $12 million signing bonus.  Ray turned them down.  Fast forward to February, 2009.  I’m hearing that the Ravens are still only willing to provide Ray with a $12 million signing bonus.  Ozzie Newsome might have to bump the total deal up a few bucks after Ray’s monster-08-campaign, but the nuts and bolts of the contract remains the signing bonus and the Ravens aren’t likely to move off of their $12 million August figure.

For Ray, that’s bad news.

And, it could be bad news for Ravens fans who want to see Lewis finish in Baltimore.

When Baltimore offered $12 million (plus) last August, Lewis and his agent scoffed at the figure and tossed around a $20 million signing  bonus as part of their wish list.  Ray then played his rear-end off in ’08 and proved he’s still one of the league’s best performers.  Advantage 52?  Maybe.  Maybe not. 

After all, you’re only worth what you can get.

An NFL executive told me last night, “if Baltimore sticks with that $12 million number and their total deal is somewhere in the $20-24 million range for four years, they could definitely lose him.” 

What’s Ray’s value?  Well, there’s no doubt he has more value to the Ravens FRANCHISE than he does with any other franchise in the league.  But, there might be an argument that Ray’s value to a TEAM, just from an on-field standpoint, could be higher somewhere other than Baltimore.

And, even if 30 other teams agree with Newsome and believe that Ray Lewis is a player worthy of ONLY a $12 million signing bonus and no more, it only takes that one other team who believes Ray is worth $18 million up front to throw the Ravens into a difficult position.

When I asked the NFL exec what he thought Ray’s value is, right now, given the upcoming “cap free year” and everything else in question regarding the upcoming CBA negotiations, his quick response was: “no more than $6 million per-year…assuming the deal is for 4 years.”  He then reminded me that his figure of “4 at 6” might be the number Ray has to settle for in the event that no in the league goes any higher than that for a 34-year old linebacker.  “I’m not sure we’d be willing to give him that, but there’s no doubt some team will look at him for leadership and put a value on that which could give him an extra lump of money.”

There’s one other element of the negotiations that could work out in Ray’s favor.

Pressure from players on other teams.

“When players start chatting with the coach, the GM and the owner and throw a free agent’s name around, that can be tough to ignore,” says the NFL executive.  “If players in Dallas or San Francisco or Miami start campaigning for Ray and tell the team, ‘go get this guy and we’ll win’, the team is sometimes locked into a no-win situation.  If they don’t go get him, the players wonder if the team really wants to win.  If they do get him and he doesn’t work out, they’re strapped for a year or two and they can’t point to the players and say, ‘they told me to sign him’.”

The exec pointed to the Ravens signing of Deion Sanders back in 2004.  “Even though he didn’t really cost them much money, Deion was a signing that came straight from the players.  They convinced Ozzie he was a guy with leadership that could get them over the top.  In the end, he was a bad signing.”

February 27 is d-day for the Ravens.  Or, should we say, “Ray-Day”.  If Lewis isn’t signed by then, he’s free to wander the country and search for a new employer.