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So finally the seeds to the much expected and long awaited Ray Lewis contract discussions have been planted, theyâ€™ve taken root and the person responsible for it is none other than Ravensâ€™ owner Steve Bisciotti.
At the ownersâ€™ meetings in Florida Bisciotti had this to say when asked if 2008 could be Ray Lewisâ€™ last with the team.
"If he becomes a free agent next year, I think the Ravens would probably outbid other teams. We know Ray’s value more than the other teams. We know the leadership he brings to the team. We know the commitment and the effort he gives to winning."
Now on the surface you might think that Bisciottiâ€™s statement may have opened up Pandoraâ€™s Box for Ozzie Newsome. Ray and his representatives now may want to ride out the season, find a suitor elsewhere in the league next February and bring that offer back to Bisciotti and say, â€œNow is your chance to outbid!â€
The perfect place for Ray to start would be Cleveland. Phil Savage certainly is well aware of Rayâ€™s importance to the team, ownership and the city. He could throw an insincere yet inflated number at Ray with the hope that he can paint the Ravens into a corner using Bisciottiâ€™s words as the paint brush.
If he could do it with Chester Taylor, he can certainly do it with Ray Lewis.
But did Bisciotti really tip his hand? Using the word â€œprobablyâ€ probably leaves him an out. Bisciotti also hinted that reasonability would be part of discussions with Ray when he said during the same ownersâ€™ meetings, "Like all negotiations, there will be a gap between what we think we’re willing to pay and what they think he is worth."
What the Ravens are willing to pay is very key here. Theyâ€™ve shown in the past that they are willing to pay handsomely. The truth be told, the club appears to get too attached to their No. 1 picks and they give too much credence to sentimental value. Add it all up and the Ravens far too often are guilty of overpaying. Theyâ€™ve done it with Ray in the past, J.O., Reed, Heap and McAlister.
They also seem to be enamored with aging stars who are looking to cash in on what theyâ€™ve done instead of what they will do and when those players are deemed to be no longer useful they become a drag on the teamâ€™s salary cap (see Steve McNair and Samari Rolle).
â€œProbablyâ€ gives Bisciotti an ore to backstroke with. And if Ray does hit the open market and someone wants to overpay for him, the Ravens need to be ready to say goodbye. Think Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott â€“ the 49ers let them go and managed to stay competitive for awhile, even winning a Super Bowl in 1995.
Paramount to any discussions about a Ray Lewis extension is gauging the balance of his career. Clearly Bisciotti is delusional if he thinks Ray has 4-5 good years left. The man hasnâ€™t completed a full season since 2003 and he does not take on blockers nor does he punish ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage the way he once did in part because he is trying to preserve his scarred shoulders.
The best thing the Ravens can do right now with Ray is absolutely nothing and therein possibly lays the silver lining. In that scenario you may see Ray Lewis more determined than ever to prove the world wrong and turn in a banner 2008. Then he can hold the Ravens ransom, provided they let him.
Letâ€™s see what Ray brings in 2008. Letâ€™s see what he brings in December when the wear and tear of another season tests the will of players. Letâ€™s see what an aging yet highly motivated Ray Lewis can do. Even then, the Ravens hold the winning cards provided they donâ€™t allow emotion into the negotiating mix.
Ozzie could point to Rayâ€™s age, his beaten shoulders and the eroding value of players who donâ€™t touch the ball or the quarterback in order to keep the declining superstarâ€™s demands in check. Perhaps other teams will take note and conclude that if Baltimore isnâ€™t offering Ray big dollars, why should we? Others might also take note of what former Ravens defenders have done in other systems. Usually they aren’t as effective as they were in Baltimore.
Who knows, maybe the club has learned. They had no problem watching Adalius Thomas head out of town despite being a fan favorite. The team rightfully decided then that they were not going to pay AD going forward for what he had already accomplished. They wanted to pay for production going forward.
It all comes back to Ozzieâ€™s mantra â€“ â€œRight player, right price.â€
With Ray Lewis that mantra will be put to the test like never before.