Ever since Drew Forrester posted his blog here at WNST.net yesterday about Ray Lewis and his pending return to the Ravens next year, folks have been talking.
I’ve received several calls from inside the organization (and around the NFL) and the reports are mixed. Many think it’s a “done deal” and others, perhaps closer to understanding the business acumen of Ray Lewis circa 2008, think this is “part of the game.”
Let’s start with the absolute obvious here: Twice this year Steve Bisciotti has publicly said what Drew wrote yesterday: Ray Lewis will remain a Raven for life.
Bisciotti did this while appearing with the new Miami sidekick on a bad radio show in August and before that poolside at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. at the owner’s meetings.
(It’s kinda crazy that NFL Network was reporting that “WNST is reporting Lewis deal imminent,” etc. when it was simply Drew’s blog saying that he believes it’ll “get done.” We didn’t send a text. We didn’t write a headline screaming “Lewis signs 5-year deal with Ravens.” Drew simply put up an informed, sourced blog with good inside information.)
But today – somewhat for sheer argument though I actually do feel this way — I will play “Devil’s advocate” and take the other position.
This is defending the “part of the game” theory of where we are with Ray Lewis in the “walk” year in his 13th season in the league at the age of 33 on a surprisingly good team and playing at a high level.
“Playing the game” would be that Lewis is finally taking all of the quality advice he’s been given – “shut up, play hard, be a good guy, try to win” – and using his play on Sundays to “cash in” with another huge payday. And, I’m sure, his better advisors told him that he’d “get paid” by someone at a very high rate of return, whether it’s the Ravens or not.
Ray Lewis is playing his ass off. While he might not be what he used to be in pass coverage when he was the best player on the planet, he’s still a pretty damned good middle linebacker. He’s the franchise player, the face of the organization and anything good that’s ever happened to the Ravens has his signature on it.
His leadership — when he’s leading EVERYONE — rubs off on his teammates and he makes them all better. Quick: name one player who LEFT the Ravens’ defense and got better somewhere else? Ed Hartwell? Kim Herring? Adalius Thomas? Jamie Sharper?
And that’s not disrespect to any of the aforementioned. It’s just a fact. Ray Lewis makes his teammates better.
For some the Ravens ARE Ray Lewis.
He’s also a very, very complex man. He’s got lots of children, relatives, advice, friends, business associates, etc. and many have had his ear over the years with mixed results. He’s jettisoned and offended enough people over the years to create two distinct camps, much of it unnecessary, really.
They should be building statues for the guy in Baltimore. I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen and I’m not really sure Ray Lewis cares if he’s an icon in Baltimore. And he’ll never actually live full time in Baltimore, so does it really matter?
But he does care about the money and he clearly cares about the integrity in which he earns it. He wants to be great. We all see that and respect it.
But make no mistake about it: No one says it’s NOT about the money with Ray Lewis. It’s ALWAYS about the money with Ray.
So, while Drew thinks he’s solved this mystery and it’ll be a “no brainer,” I’m not so sure that I feel the same way. I’ve heard the same stuff from many people in the building: he’s not going anywhere and the contract is a “formality.”
(Again. See: Owner, Bisciotti, Steve for comments about this point.)
I’m here to say that it’s not a formality until it’s, well, FORMAL. Like a signed deal, a healthy Ray Lewis and a signing bonus and deal that he doesn’t feel is insulting to him. Word is, they already made one significant foray into signing No. 52 back in August and the signing bonus number was around $12 million and it wasn’t attractive enough to get Lewis’ attention. One person told me, No. 52 all but laughed at it.
But that’s Ray Lewis’ way. He wants to be the best and be paid like he’s the best. If Dwight Freeney got $30 million, surely Lewis will want to play and get paid beginning at $31 million.
So, with all due respect to Drew Forrester, it’s gonna take two to tango in Owings Mills.
Sure, the Ravens WANT Ray Lewis back. There’s more at stake for Bisciotti in this deal than meets the eye. First, he has a tremendous affinity for Lewis and his complexities. Bisciotti LOVES Ray Lewis. He admires him! And he’s said at least twice publicly – like in the “legitimate” media – that Ray is going nowhere.
Where were the headlines then?
Think Ray Lewis and his agents haven’t read those quotes? Think they won’t be used as a weapon come the end of the season? Especially if the season ends well into January…or even later (OK, so I’m dreaming here, but that’s what I do! Incidentally, so does Ray Lewis! He thinks we’re winning the Super Bowl in February! Just ask him!)
So, then, what will the price be if Ray Lewis leads to the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in Tampa in February?
The stock is already pretty high and rising, but this entire “game” is akin to Wall Street. It all depends on where the “futures” market is heading.
An injury over the next two months, and Lewis might get nothing. If the team tanks over the last half (not absurd given their schedule and relative inexperience in key areas), his stock drops.
But if they win…
Skies the limit!
But Ozzie Newsome will have his price. And Steve Bisciotti’s might be higher. And Ray Lewis probably knows that.
“You can’t pay a guy for tomorrow based on what he did yesterday,” is a credo wise general managers of NFL teams stick with pretty consistently. So I can assure you where Ozzie Newsome’s stance will be no matter how much he admires Ray Lewis.
Ozzie answers to the “eye in the sky” and the salary cap. Newsome won’t want to pay Ray Lewis for “all he’s done over the years” but Bisciotti might.
Next September he’ll be a 34-year old linebacker with fading coverage skills and a heart as big as the state and a Hall of Fame bronze statue awaiting him in Canton at some point.
And we all know what happens to players in their twilight, right?
Here’s the general scenario (and there’s no reason in the world to think it won’t play out this way for Ray Lewis if he wants to gauge his “market” value):
Ozzie: “Ray we love you. But we think you’re worth $16 million.”
Ray’s agent: “We’ll shop elsewhere.”
Like Junior Seau. And Emmitt Smith. And Joe Montana. And Jason Taylor. And Bruce Smith. And Brett Favre. etc.
Of course the biggest wild card here is the pending bust-up of the collective bargaining agreement and the chance of a rich guy’s free-for-all in the league with an uncapped season coming during the life of whatever deal Lewis will get from any team in the offseason.
So, my guess is that it ain’t over yet by any stretch.
There’s a lot of football left to be played and a lot of “off the field” politics and accounting to be done.
And a lot of “the game” has yet to play out.
Stay tuned. This soap opera could be as thick as Luke and Laura on General Hospital back in 1980.
Or it could all get done quietly behind closed doors, but that’ll definitely cost Bisciotti and the Ravens a little more than they originally thought. And they’re apparently OK with that as long as it’s not too absurd.
But Ray won’t take the “friends and family deal” to stay with the Ravens. Like he says, “It’s just business.”
At least if the plan is working and the team continues to win it makes all the sense in the world to “take care” of Ray a little. Theoretically, he’s worth more to the Ravens then he is to any other team.
But don’t kid yourself: it’ll cost more to sign Ray Lewis if the prosperity continues.
One thing we know for sure: no matter how much they pay him they’re going to get the same results from a 34 through 38-year old linebacker.
As Bill Parcells would say: “He is what he is.”
Then the question becomes: How much tread do the Ravens and Steve Bisciotti think is left on the old tire?
And what’s the price of poker in Baltimore?
I’ve always maintained that it’ll probably “end badly” with Ray Lewis, like it does for most NFL stars who want to essentially be overpaid for their contributions earlier in their career.
One way or another, we’ll find out in the coming weeks whether Bisciotti and Lewis are on the same page as to the value of a mid-30′s linebacker in the NFL.