OWINGS MILLS — The NFL job market for Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis is rapidly shrinking, and the cold shoulder he has received so far in free agency sets up his likely return to Baltimore as soon as next week.
Doors keep slamming shut on potential destinations for Lewis, whose three-year, $24 million contract proposal that includes $17 million guaranteed is still available from the Ravens. If the Ravens weren’t concerned about Lewis’ pride and contentment, they could consider reducing the offer since the 33-year-old doesn’t own any real leverage since so many teams have already signed starting inside linebacker.
Among the teams that would appear to no longer need the services of the 10-time Pro Bowl selection: the Dallas Cowboys after signing former Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Keith Brooking, the Denver Broncos after signing former Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Andra Davis, the New Orleans Saints after re-signing middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma for $34 million and, of course, the New York Jets who tabbed former Ravens inside linebacker Bart Scott with a $48 million offer instead of Lewis.
Lewis may have dreamed of wearing the Cowboys’ star, according to Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but it looks like he’ll wind up remaining in purple and black after becoming an unrestricted free agent following 13 years in Baltimore.
"I would think Ray Lewis is going to have plenty of opportunities," Jets coach Rex Ryan said after signing Scott. "He is one of the premier players in this league and I am sure Ray is not going to have any problems finding a job out there."
Yet, that job market appears to be of a singular quality: Baltimore. While Lewis remains in South Florida as he plots his next move, his camp is now saying that Lewis chose not to take visits this weekend due to personal reasons as he’s spending time with family. However, it’s actually more likely that Lewis simply didn’t have another team willing to pay him as much as he wants, so taking a visit would have been pointless.
One of Lewis’ agents downplayed reports that Lewis is unhappy with the Ravens, including one from the NFL Network that cited a friend close to Lewis as saying he would rather retire than play for the Ravens. On Friday, the league-owned Network hastily backed off that report as former Ravens safety Rod Woodson said that he spoke with Lewis, who allegedly said that he has no problem with the Ravens and is looking forward to next season. Lewis frequently appears on that network, so the report and the correction raised a few eyebrows in NFL circles.
Ryan said the Jets passed on Lewis, who apparently made exorbitant financial demands to New York team officials, because of Scott’s superior versatility.
"I think he is going to be more effective, even more so now with the Jet defense, because we are going to have some flexibility with him and David that we quite honestly never really had with Ray," Ryan said. "That is not taking anything away from Ray, but Ray was always the Mike ‘backer. I think now we can switch Bart and David in and out and I think it’s going to give some identification problems to offenses."
Retired Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Merrill Hoge, who avidly studies game film, said that he believes Lewis’ game has declined.
"He doesn’t turn and run like he once did," Hoge said during an ESPN television appearance. "He doesn’t dominate like he once did. He doesn’t get off blocks like he once did. He doesn’t have the same range, the same speed, the same quickness.
"Even though his skills have eroded, I think it would be much more magnified somewhere else than in Baltimore because of the familiarity. Learning new players and a new system, I think those diminished skills would be more visible."
NOTES: The Ravens remain interested in Pittsburgh Steelers free agent offensive tackle Marvel Smith, continuing preliminary discussions Saturday. Those talks are expected to pick up again Monday. … The breakdown on new Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth’s four-year, $27.2 million deal that includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money features a $4 million signing bonus and a $3.38 reporting bonus this year. Foxworth’s deal also includes $6 million in option bonuses. His base salaries are $620,000 for 2009, $3.2 million, which is only guaranteed in case of injury, $4.4 million in 2011 and $5.6 million in 2012. … Ravens free agent safety Jim Leonhard began his visit with the Jets on Saturday night and is expected to eventually sign with New York.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.