The Baltimore Ravens have decided not to protect Jamal Lewis from free agency, but have not ruled out the possibility of signing the one-time 2,000-yard rusher to a long-term contract.
Lewis, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2003, when he rushed for 2,066 yards, slumped to a career-low 906 yards this season following a four-month sentence in a Florida federal prison and two months in a halfway house for a cocaine conspiracy plea bargain. He also underwent surgery on his right ankle.
The Ravens would have had to assign a one-year, $6 million franchise tender to retain Lewis. Not doing so means they are likely to look over the veteran running back market while evaluating potential rookie running backs such as USC's LenDale White and Memphis' DeAngelo Williams. The Ravens have the 13th overall pick in the draft.
Chester Taylor, Lewis' backup, is likely to become a free agent.
"We will still consider the possibility of talking to Jamal about a long-term contract with us," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who drafted Lewis fifth overall out of Tennessee in 2000.
Lewis could join an already crowded running back market that could include NFL MVP Shaun Alexander of Seattle; Indianapolis' Edgerrin James and Carolina's DeShaun Foster.
"I've spoken with Jamal and his agent today to let them know."
Lewis' agent Mitch Frankel had no immediate comment.
Lewis' total in 2003 was the second-highest total in league history. However, his production has declined each year since then while dealing with legal turmoil and injuries. In 2004, Lewis rushed for 1,006 yards. This season, Lewis averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry and scored a career-low three touchdowns. He rushed for 100 yards only twice this year.
come on jamal. i know youre a raven, but i want you to come to the steelers!!!