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OWINGS MILLS — Former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis’ path out of Baltimore wasn’t confined to the high road as he took a few parting shots at the Ravens’ offensive philosophy after signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
Lewis’ complaint was a familiar one: not getting the football as much as he wanted. The former NFL Offensive Player of the Year was cut by Baltimore last week prior to a $5 million roster bonus that was due, and turned down a one-year, $2 million offer from the Ravens.
â€œI feel like I made the right move,â€ Lewis said in a Thursday conference call with Cleveland reporters. â€œThey are committed to the run and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve been looking for in Baltimore.
â€œThere have been no adjustments there or no moves made there. I wanted to get out of that deal and get out of Baltimore. Their profile seems more like they want to be a passing team.â€
Lewis’ departure to an AFC North rival followed a 1,132-yard season where he scored nine touchdowns, but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.
According to Lewis, his skills are not in decline years removed from a 2,066-yard campaign in 2003 when he was selected to his lone Pro Bowl.
â€œI have a lot left in the tank when I have something to work with," said Lewis, who lamented not getting 25 carries per game last season. "I feel like Cleveland is going to give me the opportunity to let me play my game. I feel I couldnâ€™t do that in Baltimore because of the profile and what they were trying to accomplish.â€
Lewis’ exit amounted to upsetting news to tight end Daniel Wilcox, who reacted strongly after the Ravens traded for Buffalo Bills runner Willis McGahee and signed him to a seven-year contract with a maximum value of nearly $40 million.
"Iâ€™m not really that happy right now to be honest,â€ Wilcox said. â€œJamal Lewis is a really good friend of mine and wished he could be back with the Ravens. Iâ€™ve heard a lot about McGahee and heâ€™s an excellent player. At the same time, I wished we still had Jamal."
Linebacker Bart Scott expressed surprise that Lewis was no longer a teammate, but took a more pragmatic view than Wilcox.
"I was surprised that we lost Jamal," Scott said. "I thought it was a strong chance that heâ€™d be back. In losing Jamal, we gained a Willis McGahee, a back that we had tremendous respect in our defensive room. I think heâ€™ll be a great addition. If you have to lose a Jamal, getting McGahee doesnâ€™t make it as bad."
Lewis said a major reason he chose the Browns was because of his background with general manager Phil Savage, who recommended that Baltimore draft him fifth overall in 2000 out of the University of Tennessee.
â€œPhil Savage knows what type of running back I am, he knows what Iâ€™m capable of doing,â€ Lewis said. â€œI can look him in the eyes and let him know Iâ€™m going to make him happy. Iâ€™m glad he got me out of my situation and put me in a better one."
Lewis, who served four months in a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., after accepting a plea bargain in a cocaine conspiracy case and has run afoul of the NFL substance-abuse policies in the past, defended his character.
â€œThat has nothing to do with my career,â€ he said. â€œIt has something to do with the way people see you. Some people prejudge you and they donâ€™t know you. I am who I am, and people who know me know Iâ€™m a quiet and humble person. I got caught up in something and I did what I had to do to let that go. Iâ€™m just pushing forward.â€
Lewis said he is fully recovered from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle, adding that he’s capable of running a 40-yard dash in a low 4.4 or a high 4.3 when in shape.
Reflecting on his seven years in Baltimore, Lewis said he will never forget the camaraderie in the locker room.
â€œWe had the mentality to go out, win and fight together,â€ Lewis said. â€œThat was the biggest memory I take with me from Baltimore.â€
NOTE: Offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo, whom Baltimore cut Wednesday to clear $2 million in salary cap space, visited the Detroit Lions on Thursday and said he plans to visit the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons. The Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings have demonstrated interest in Mulitalo, but no visit is currently scheduled.
"I have no regrets because I understand the business," Mulitalo said after arriving in Detroit where former Baltimore assistant Jim Colletto is the offensive line coach. "I loved my time in Baltimore, and now it’s time for me to find somewhere else to play. Baltimore will always be my home."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.