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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens and former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis have hit an impasse in contract negotiations, and both sides are now talking to other people in a development that could ultimately set the stage for Lewis’ departure.
Lewis’ agent, Mitch Frankel, is no longer as optimistic that he will reach an agreement with Baltimore, and the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year plans to visit the Cleveland Browns along with other teams.
"I’m not as confident as I was about getting something done with Baltimore," Frankel said.
Team officials have been attempting to convince Lewis, whom they cut last week rather than pay him a $5 million signing bonus, to accept their standing contract offer. It’s believed there’s a rapidly shrinking shelf life for the Ravens’ offer currently on the table, and that Baltimore is willing to move on if Lewis doesn’t accept soon.
That stance and a strong interest in exploring a trade for disgruntled Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee has led to this standoff between the Ravens and the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft.
Frankel has said that he has exchanged several contract proposals with Baltimore, including one-year and multi-year deals, but nothing that both sides regarded as â€œmutually attractive.â€
While the Ravens signed reserve running back Musa Smith to a one-year, $1 million contract to rejoin the Ravens on Tuesday, they are still looking at other free agent possibilities for their starting running back job. Team officials consider McGahee an attractive fallback option if their talks with Lewis break down completely.
Meanwhile, the Bills had running back Dominic Rhodes in for a visit Tuesday and will host Chris Brown today, illustrating that they’re moving on from McGahee. They have reiterated several times that McGahee is on the trading block.
The Ravens have several contingency plans if they are unable to sign Lewis.
One potential avenue is former New England Patriots runner Corey Dillon, 32, and they’ve held preliminary discussions with his agent, Steve Feldman, who described Baltimore as Dillon’s first choice.
McGahee has fallen out of favor in Buffalo with his complaints about the city and a suggestion that old-guard Bills owner Ralph Wilson should move the team to Toronto.
The former University of Miami star sat out his rookie season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but recovered to rush for 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns over the past three seasons. At 6-foot, 228 pounds, McGahee is a physical, tackle-breaking back with a decent burst. He had a long run of 57 yards last season, slumping overall to a career-low 990 yards.
McGahee, 25, is known for his ability in the red zone, scoring 13 touchdowns in 2004. His career-best season was 1,247 yards in 2005.
If the Ravens traded for McGahee, they would likely face the challenge of negotiating a long-term, lucrative deal with agent Drew Rosenhaus. McGahee is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is due a $2.15 million base salary in 2007.
â€œIâ€™m not talking to the media right now,â€ Rosenhaus said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Ravens created some depth by signing Smith.
Smith, who received a $490,000 signing bonus, has battled numerous injuries since arriving in Baltimore. The former third-round draft pick from Georgia has ended the season on injured reserve for the past three seasons and recently underwent neck surgery, which could keep him out until training camp.
â€œMusaâ€™s thrilled to be coming back and heâ€™s looking forward to rewarding the clubâ€™s loyalty with a strong and healthy season,â€ said Jack Reale, Smithâ€™s agent. â€œHeâ€™s had miserable luck. I think heâ€™s going to burst out this year. I think their plan is to get him on the field a lot.â€
Smith posted career-highs with 153 rushing yards and 22 receptions last season.
"Receiving this contract and being back in Baltimore means a lot,â€ said Smith, who rushed for 153 yards and caught 22 passes last season. â€œIâ€™m thankful for the Ravens sticking with me throughout a tough year. Iâ€™m really planning on having a great season next year. Iâ€™m glad they wanted me back."
Drafted to supplant Lewis, injuries have derailed Smithâ€™s once-promising career.
Smith, who has rushed for 232 yards and two touchdowns with 27 receptions for 171 yards in 33 games,. has stood out more on special teams than running the football. He has registered 24 career special-teams tackles.
â€œItâ€™s good to have Musa back,â€ Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. â€œHaving surgery during the season put him ahead in his recovery. He will be ready for the start of training camp. Whenever weâ€™ve put him on the field, heâ€™s produced. Weâ€™re looking forward to having a healthy Musa help us.â€
NOTES: Ravens return specialist B.J. Samsâ€™ court date for a driving under the influence charge was postponed until May 15.
Sams was scheduled to appear in court in Towson on Tuesday for an Oct. 3 arrest, his second DUI arrest within a 14-month span.
Sams received probation before judgment for his first DUI. Depending on the outcome of this case and if the league placed him in the NFL substance-abuse program after his first arrest, Sams could receive either a four-game suspension or just a fine.
Sams was arrested after his Chevrolet Tahoe SUV swerved and nearly hit another vehicle, according to a Maryland State police trooper. Sams, a restricted free agent who received the low tender of $850,000 from Baltimore last week, was also charged with negligent driving and an unsafe lane change violation. â€¦
Backup quarterback Kyle Boller is due a $1.79 million base salary in the final season of his contract, a raise from his previous contract figure of $798,000, according to NFL Players Association figures. â€¦Former Buffalo Bills fullback Daimon Shelton has drawn interest from the Ravens. … The agent for Detroit Lions free agent fullback Cory Schlesinger spoke again with the Ravens, but no visit or deal is imminent.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland