I’ve had the rare good fortune that most of you haven’t had over the past six weeks. Sometimes it kinda gets lost on me that as a media member for 25 years here in Baltimore, I get to do what every PSL owner and fan would love to do: actually sit with Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis and ask them questions.
In one eight day span last month, I got to sit with Bisciotti in Owings Mills (on video here) and with Ray Lewis in Tampa (one of four videos here) and ask them the exact same question: “Do you think this contract thing could get awkward for you?”
Both of them sort of skirted the question. You can see their exact answers for yourself with a click so there’s no need for me to transcribe here. The bottom line is this: I think six weeks later it’s a pretty fair question and I give myself bonus journalism points for asking the question of both men. I really don’t know if anyone had mentally taken the “free agency” train into the reality of yesterday’s situation and lo and behold, yesterday, the day of reckoning arrived and it wasn’t pretty and still stands to potentially get uglier.
It is the strangest of strange days for the organization, for Ray Lewis and most certainly for the fans who just want to know what’s going on. From WNST.net to AM 1570 to all of our Facebook accounts, Baltimore was abuzz with “Raymania” all day Friday.
Is he staying? Is he going? Will it be the Cowboys? Or the Broncos? Or the Jets? Or some darkhorse team we didn’t know was in the mix? Plenty of other players were on private lear jets and commercial flights and the NFL free agency media web mania began in earnest just after midnight. Hell, I got a text message from Peter King about Bart Scott at 2:15 AM! (No, I’m not kidding!) For the record, Peter King gave me the Namath guarantee at 8:15 a.m. this morning that Bart Scott would be a New York Jet by the end of the day. (I have no idea when the man sleeps but I love him!)
But as Jason Brown was running off to sign a $37.5 million deal with the lowly St. Louis Rams (so long JB…we’ll miss ya, man!) and Bart Scott was trying on a green cap and bringing Hot Sauce to the Big Apple, Ray Lewis was sitting at home in Florida trying to do damage control. And as we all know, public relations isn’t No. 52’s strong suit.
Let’s count the stories, tales and tacky details of this messy – and yes ‘AWKWARD’ – negotiation.
It started right after the Steelers beat the Ravens in Pittsburgh. Ray Lewis ducked the media and all questions about his future. Fair enough. Ten days later he sat on our set at Radio Row in Tampa for 15 minutes (his first interview with me since 1999) and talked a LOT about God deciding his fate. He told Anita Marks even less than that and she asked softballs as usual so nothing came from that “public appearance.”
About five days later in preparation for the Pro Bowl, he was canoodling with Jamie Dukes in a “shoot” interview on the sands of Hawaii. He openly and happily broached the possibilities of becoming a New York Jet and/or a Dallas Cowboy. Fans here in Baltimore bristled more than a little. Word is strong that Steve Bisciotti bristled as well (I have no confirmation on that one, just the same rumors you’ve heard!) He decided to pass on an in-game field interview with Andrea Kramer of NBC during the Pro Bowl, eliminating the possibility of putting his foot in his mouth.
And so for nearly a month, we’ve fielded call after call, read words upon words about what the outcome of “Ray-Gate” would be in 2009. Would No. 52 be a “Raven for life” or would he take the autumn of his Hall of Fame career elsewhere for a larger payday?
Many observations exist:
Ray has closed his Canton BBQ restaurant and is ready to move on…
Ray is perturbed that the Ravens have only offered him $12 million in guaranteed money…
Ray told Demarcus Ware he wants to be a Dallas Cowboy…
Ray (heart) Rex Ryan…
Blah, blah, blah. It was all “talk is cheap” kinda stuff in anticipation of Black Friday, the day Ray Lewis would head for greener pastures (and maybe not even the Jets?)
And when yesterday finally came, when the time came for the owners to open their pocketbooks via their GM’s and personnel folks and everyone from Albert Haynesworth to Bart Scott to Jason Brown to Ryan Fitzpatrick was jetting off somewhere to have a press conference and some free appetizers, future Hall of Famer and Baltimore legend Ray Lewis was sitting at home in Florida waiting for the phone call from the second wife that never came. Like Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn in the greenroom in New York on the third Saturday of April, he paced the cage waiting for someone other than Ozzie Newsome to show up with a Brink’s truck.
And, worst of all, NFL.com’s very respected Adam Schefter reported a source close to Ray Lewis (clearly believed to be Rod Woodson or Deion Sanders, since they are co-workers of Schefter and co-friends on No. 52’s speed dial) as saying Ray was “done” with the Ravens and offended beyond repair. That report surfaced around 9 a.m. By 4 p.m. and with seven solid hours of silence and a major disturbance from the fan base here in Baltimore, apparently Lewis had heard enough and called Woodson in Los Angeles to retract, run away from or disassociate himself with anything regarding purple potty talk and Jerry Jones. Of course, we’d love to know who or what entity is giving Ray Lewis this “advice” on public relations and skilled negotiation since his real agent David Dunn is in the NFL’s pokey for being a lousy agent.
Which brings us to today, Day Two of free agency: what does this mean for Ray Lewis and Ravens?
Well, if Ozzie Newsome were being honest – really honest – he’d probably tell you that he would’ve predicted this all along. That Ray Lewis would be sitting by the phone and it wouldn’t be ringing because his offer was always going to be the best offer. He’d probably come completely clean and say in his Southern drawl, “I had it all sized up from the beginning. I gave him what he’s worth, maybe even more than he’s worth to any other team. He’ll be a Raven because we want him the most and we’ll pay him the most. But he might have to sit at home by the phone and find that out on his own.”
I had several league insiders tell me that Ray Lewis was going to get his feelings hurt yesterday and they were right.
Of course, Newsome will never say that. But I will. Newsome has said publicly that it would only take one team, one major offer to Ray Lewis to change the game and the course. It was never even intimated that Newsome would move off of his “number” for Ray Lewis. You know the Newsome credo: right player, right price. And everyone from Steve Bisciotti down said that the owner would stay out of this negotiation.
The Ravens are reportedly offering Ray Lewis – a 34-year old aging superstar on a team that was four minutes away from the Super Bowl – about $17 million in guaranteed fresh money for the autumn of his career and some sort of “implied” final contract to make him a “Raven for life.” He’ll be lauded and feted into perpetuity here in Baltimore as a legend. Bob Haynie, Drew Forrester and I had the debate last week at Sullivan’s Steakhouse about whether No. 52 is on the Baltimore “Mount Rushmore.”
Now, the question remains: Will he take the Ravens deal?
Or are his feelings really hurt? Did he really want the Cowboys to call? Was all of this about getting leverage to push the negotiation with the Ravens, who’ve never wavered from the fact that they want Ray Lewis forever? Or was his “mystery” NFL Network friend telling the truth, that Ray Lewis is less than thrilled about continuing his career in Baltimore?
Who knows if we’ll ever know?
But you have to believe that we’re now past the point where his phone will be ringing with a higher offer later in the weekend from Jerry Jones or Pat Bowlen. If a team was serious about Ray Lewis, wouldn’t they have called already? And wouldn’t he be gone already?
We know one thing: Daniel Snyder didn’t want him to be a Redskin!
Strange daze indeed.