Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I don't hate Ray Lewis...really I don't

So far it hasn’t been the greatest of fan weeks for me. The Lightning mailed in an effort against the Panthers and lost while the Thashers are putting together a nice winning streak. The Rays continue to blow leads in Spring Training. I forgot to record the Liverpool game against Barcelona today (the boys in red lost but advanced – I love soccer). Worst of all the Ravens are self destructing 7 months before opening day.

I’m not talking about losing Tony Pashos or Ovie Mughelli (6 years $18 Million are you serious? For a fullback?). I’m not even worried that they waived Jamal Lewis. I’m talking about losing Adalius Thomas. 16 games, 106 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 interceptions and a 57 yard rumble for a touchdown – those are his stats from just last year. The linebacker/ defensive end hybrid is just entering his football prime, and he’ll be doing it for the New England Patriots.

I am bummed out about it. It’s only March and I’m bummed out about the football season. I’m bummed about the fact that one of the best defenses in the league is falling about. I’m bummed that the team is trying to spin Jarrett Johnson is a possible replacement for Thomas. I’ve watched Adalius Thomas, I’ve cheered for Thomas, you Jarrett Johnson are no Adalius Thomas. I’m still bummed about the Liverpool thing.

Thomas has played 7 seasons for the Ravens and scored 5 touchdowns in 96 games 4 of them in the last two seasons. That’s only 3 less than Tampa Bay’s lead running back Carnell Williams in the same time frame. O.k. I had to do a little work to find a running back with comparable numbers, but hey – it’s my column.

The Ravens do a great job of scouting talent on the defensive side of the ball. They are currently doing a bad job of retaining the talent. Ed Hartwell is another young player that they failed to lock up. Hartwell has had injuries that plagued him during his stay with the Falcons, but when he was with the Ravens he was dominating. He collected 472 tackles in 64 games. I’m no math whiz but my calculator tells me that’s over 7 tackles a game. That doesn’t take into account the fact that 18 of those games he didn’t start in.

Why has Ozzie Newsome had trouble locking up some of these young linebackers? Well, probably because they knew they could score big in the free agent market (Hartwell $26.25 Million and Thomas is reported to be getting a $12 Million signing bonus and a “work out clause” where he gets $107,00 a year if he attends off-season workouts. ) Or it could be his loyalty to some of his older players. By older players I mean Ray Lewis.

Look, I am a huge Ray Lewis fan. I have defended him since his little run in with the law a few years back. You may have heard about it. I thought the NFL treated him like crap after he came back from his temporary incarceration. For two seasons you didn’t see Ray Lewis. No commercials, no promotions no nothing. He didn’t even get to go to Disney World after being named the Super Bowl MVP. If the Ravens hadn’t won the Super Bowl I don’t think they would have ever marketed him. Despite all the negative attention I wore my “52 R.LEWIS” jersey with pride to work every Friday.

Lewis is a hall of famer, first ballot, no doubt. The Lakeland Florida native played with an intensity unrivaled by most modern players. His face graced billboards in Baltimore. I have a bottle of his hot sauce in the Baltimore Sports Shrine – Largo Chapter. He is on his way of joining the holy trinity of Baltimore athletes – John Unitas, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, Jr.

Along the way he has been handsomely compensated. He’s also made it known when he’s unhappy with his contract. Type in “Ray Lewis” and “contract dispute” in Google and you get 17,000 hits. His last contract was one that was supposed to make him a Raven for life. He agreed to a 7 year $50 Million contract. Including his signing bonus a whopping 38 percent of that money was guaranteed. After the 2005’s disappointing season there were rumblings of Lewis wanting a new contract so that he could…..wait for it….be a Raven for life.

Perhaps it’s time Ray realizes that he is a step slower in the field. That he is more susceptible to injury as he gets older. While he may be the general on the field he is no longer the most dangerous weapon – please spare me the knife jokes. The most dangerous players are now Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and until a week ago Adalius Thomas.

The Ravens have stood by Lewis through his dark days and rewarded him for his efforts with millions of dollars. They have made him the centerpiece of the organization for 10 years. Maybe, it’s time he took a look at who he is as a player and what his role is on this team. Maybe it’s time he reworked his contract not to his advantage, but to the teams.

His legacy in Baltimore is cemented. While others outside the area may not like his brashness, his dancing or chest thumping they will have to admit he had a great run as a dominating linebacker for a long time. One of the sad truths is that football players, especially the great ones, rarely know when to quit. Picture Unitas in a Charger uniform or Joe Namath in a Rams uniform. Joe Montana, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice retired in uniforms far removed from the ones they wore in their glory days.

Imagine Steven Gerrard wearing something other than the Liverpool red. It would be that bad. Anyone? Anyone get that reference. Look it up on Wikipedia I’m not explaining it to you.

No comments: