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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens brokered a trade Thursday for Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee, rapidly signing Jamal Lewis’ replacement to a seven-year contract with a maximum value of $40.12 million.
One day after Lewis bolted to the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore exchanged a third-round draft pick (No. 92 overall) and a seventh-round draft pick in this yearâ€™s draft along with next yearâ€™s third-round draft pick to acquire the former University of Miami star. McGahee signed a faxed copy of the deal, which included a $7.5 million signing bonus plus an option bonus of $6 million in 2008, while in Miami, Fla., for tax purposes at the suggestion of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
â€œI just hope Iâ€™m the piece of the puzzle to get us to the next level,â€ McGahee told reporters in Florida before boarding a flight to Baltimore. â€œI canâ€™t believe itâ€™s true. Itâ€™s a fresh start. Itâ€™s time to move on with a new organization. Iâ€™m very excited.â€
McGahee, who arrived at BWI shortly after 7 p.m., is scheduled to take a physical this morning at the Ravens’ training complex. If he passes, the trade will be finalized. Heâ€™s coming off a career-low 990-yard season with six touchdowns.
â€œThis is a runner who can make people miss and has the explosion and speed to take it the distance," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He also has the power and size to run inside.
â€œHeâ€™s a viable receiver out of the backfield and is a good pass blocker, not something every back can do. He also plays physical and with toughness, which are things we pride ourselves on here.â€
McGahee’s deal includes minimum base salaries of $595,000 in 2007, $605,000 in 2008 and $620,000 in 2009 with corresponding salary-cap figures of $1.845 million, $3.055 million and $3.370 million over the next three years.
In 2009, McGahee is due a $1.5 million option bonus. His base salaries rise to $3.6 million in 2010, $6 million in 2012, $6.5 million in 2012 and $7.2 million in 2012.
Because his salary-cap figures are so high in 2010 ($6.35 million), 2011 ($8.75 million), 2012 ($9.25 million) and 2013 ($7.5 million), the deal is really structured like a four-year deal with a total worth of $20.4 million with $14.7 million due in the first two years.
â€œIâ€™m very happy,â€ McGahee said.
Baltimore faced competition for McGahee from the Tennessee Titans, who held discussions with Bills officials before the Ravens completed the trade.
McGahee has rushed for 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns since sitting out his rookie season while rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the Fiesta Bowl.
â€œWay to go Ozzie!" Ravens coach Brian Billick exclaimed in a statement. "Weâ€™re getting a dynamic back who has the potential to diversify our running game. Weâ€™ve studied him, and he brings the same passion and preparation that is common to Miami players, like our Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.â€
Added McGahee: â€œItâ€™s always good to be with Hurricanes.â€
McGahee, 25, hasnâ€™t run with the same explosiveness he flashed in college prior to a major knee injury, but is younger than Lewis with less wear and tear.
â€œIn losing Jamal, we gained a Willis McGahee, a back that we had tremendous respect for in our defensive room," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think heâ€™ll be a great addition. If you have to lose a Jamal, getting McGahee doesnâ€™t make it as bad."
McGahee was due a $2.15 million base salary in 2007, the final year of his rookie contract. Baltimore was determined to not just rent the 6-foot, 228-pounder for the year.
The Ravens cut popular left guard Edwin Mulitalo on Wednesday to clear up $2 million in salary-cap space.
McGahee fell out of favor in Buffalo with three paternity suits in two years and suggested that the Bills should move to Toronto in an interview with Penthouse magazine, later saying his controversial remarks were taken out of context.
â€œWhat a player says, and for whatever reason, we really canâ€™t let it affect us,â€ Bills coach Dick Jauron told Buffalo reporters. â€œOn the other hand, you canâ€™t disregard the things that happen. We certainly donâ€™t agree with a number of things that are said.â€
McGahee has averaged 1,122 yards, 3.9 yards per carry and eight touchdowns per season, but reportedly drew the ire of old-guard Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
He also drew internal criticism from the Buffalo coaching staff for not knowing his plays and struggling in pass protection with one report alleging that an assistant had to signal plays into McGahee to explain what he was supposed to do.
Although the Bills took issue with McGahee choosing to work out in Miami during the offseason instead of in Buffalo, Jauron said he didnâ€™t have any problems with his work ethic.
â€œI enjoyed Willis very much,â€ Jauron said. â€œHe played hard for us. He did a nice job.â€
McGaheeâ€™s top season was in 2005 when he was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,247 yards and five touchdowns with 28 receptions for 178 yards.
Now, the Ravens are banking on a change of scenery and being reunited with Reed and Lewis to energize McGahee.
â€œFrom what I have seen of Willis, he is a heck of a warrior," said Ray Lewis, a fellow University of Miami football alum. "The way he runs and the passion he plays with is contagious. He plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. I am truly excited to have him as a teammate and look forward to a great season.â€
NOTE: The Ravens are expected to pursue Bills free agent fullback Daimon Shelton (6-0, 262 pounds) to potentially form a tandem with McGahee again. The Ravens aren’t going to pursue Detroit Lions free agent fullback Cory Schlesinger. … Ravens free agent wide receiver Alex Bannister visited the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland