Ravens' Lewis recruiting 49ers' Owens

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis chose a high-profile setting to recruit controversial San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens.

The NFL Defensive Player of the Year put on his best sales pitch Sunday night at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii while wired to an ESPN microphone at the Pro Bowl in an attempt to entice Owens.

"I'm putting it out on national television," said Lewis while standing next to the flamboyant receiver who's expected to become a free agent in March. "He's coming to Baltimore."

Lewis' desire to acquire Owens, who quarreled with 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia before and after a season where he caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns, doesn't necessarily mean that the Ravens will actively pursue Owens.

Although the Ravens reportedly lead the NFL with $24 million underneath the salary cap, Ravens coach Brian Billick has said the team is unlikely to spend its cash on splashy free-agent signings.

Instead, the team's top priority remains the same: to retain its own free agents and, possibly, extend deals of players already under contract.

While the Ravens' executives and coaching staff aren't allowed to comment on impending free agents until March because of league rules regarding tampering, Lewis isn't bound by those regulations.

"I can't comment specifically to anyone, but players do develop relationships with guys through golf tournaments, Pro Bowls, speaking engagements and commercials," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Within that bond they gain, they start recruiting the players to come and play for their team."

Owens' Web site (www.terrellowens.com), besides featuring an elaborate musical introduction by rapper 50 Cent, a virtual highlight reel and several photographs, has message boards devoted to fans of potential employers such as the Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. Owens has previously expressed an interest in playing for the Ravens and several other franchises, not the 49ers.

A third-round draft pick from Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1996, Owens holds the NFL record with 20 receptions in a single game. He has 592 career catches for 8,572 yards and 81 touchdowns.

Besides Owens' stormy run-ins with Garcia and former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, he has previously run afoul of the league rules regarding end-zone celebrations. The most notable moments include the infamous "Sharpie" episode, spiking the football on the Dallas Cowboys' star on the 50-yard line and borrowing a cheerleader's pom-poms after a touchdown.

Owens hasn't run into trouble off the field and quietly devotes a lot of time and money to charity events.

Would the Ravens consider input from Lewis on making a decision on Owens or any other potential acquisition?

"Anytime there's an opportunity for us to talk with someone within the organization who has intimate knowledge about a player we're trying to acquire," Newsome said, "we'll go to that person."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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