Lewis, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2003, pleaded not guilty last week to federal charges that he helped arrange a major cocaine deal for a hometown friend in the summer of 2000. No trial date was set for Lewis, but a team spokesman said the case could go to trial as early as June.
Ravens officials stressed that adding one of the game's top playmakers was done to compliment Lewis and not made to fill a potential void if Lewis is lost for the season. "We have a great deal of faith in Jamal and for anybody to misconstrue the reasons for doing that [trade], I quite honestly can't understand the logic of that question," coach Brian Billick said. "We've been trying to address this issue since the day I got here. We fully anticipate for Jamal to be with us."
General manager Ozzie Newsome said the uncertainty about Lewis hasn't influenced the team's free-agent plans.
Lewis, 24, is the centerpiece of the Ravens' offense, producing the second-highest rushing total in NFL history last season. He accounted for 42 percent of the offense and scored 14 of the team's 34 offensive touchdowns. "We stand by Jamal," Newsome said. "Nobody knows Jamal as well as we do. Right now, that hasn't altered our offseason plans at all."
Said Billick: "We're certainly cognizant of this situation, but it's not driving us in any sense."
Signing a free-agent running back is considered a low priority since the Ravens have capable backups in Musa Smith and Chester Taylor. Smith, in particular, is a power back similar to Lewis and is viewed by the coaching staff as possessing excellent potential. As a rookie, he ran nine times for 31 yards and two touchdowns.
"I feel very good about the depth of our running backs corps," Billick said. "I'm excited to see Musa take that next step. I think we all saw glimpses of it with the limited time he had."
A team spokesman said Lewis might speak to the media at the team's minicamp in early May. His lawyers have advised him not to talk to reporters until that time.
Ravens officials said they will not speak again about Lewis unless there is a change in the case. "We're not going to do a play-by-play here," Billick said.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Center Mike Flynn reached an agreement on a five-year contract worth $11.2 million that includes a $4 million signing bonus. With the return of Flynn, the Ravens have retained four of their five starters on the offensive line. "Team-wise, we know we have a good thing going on the line," Flynn said. "We are a pretty cohesive unit and we can improve. I won't say that we will rush for another 2,000 yards, but I definitely think we can be a better line."
--The Ravens officially announced the hiring of O.J. Brigance as their director of player programs. Brigance, a special teams standout on the Ravens' Super Bowl team in 2000, will oversee all player development programs and work closely with players in assisting them with each phase of their careers. "O.J. was a leader and a true professional as a player for us," Newsome said. "He'll be the same as a Ravens executive."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Ray Lewis is an asset to this organization because of the respect he has among his peers. From that standpoint, we would never put Ray Lewis in a situation where he has to babysit a player." -- General manager Ozzie Newsome when asked if Ray Lewis' leadership can help a locker room absorb a disruptive player.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
After addressing the need at receiver, the other priorities for the Ravens appear to be upgrading at defensive end, finding a nickel back and retaining backup quarterback Anthony Wright.
In the big picture, Newsome said landing a dependable second option behind starting quarterback Kyle Boller may be the most critical need. "Based on the history of quarterbacks getting injured in this league," Newsome said, "it is valuable to have a very good backup quarterback as opposed to a receiver, pass rusher or another corner."
With the trade for WR Terrell Owens, the Ravens now are without picks in the first and second round. Their first draft choice is the third round (88th overall pick).
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: Offensive line (The Ravens are showing some age on their physical front. It wouldn't be surprising if the team invests in a young tackle to groom); Secondary (The Ravens are set with two Pro Bowl selections in Ed Reed and Chris McAlister along with up-and-comer Gary Baxter. But this secondary could be an elite one with a solid free safety); Receiver (Even with the addition of Terrell Owens, the Ravens need another young wideout to groom as the third receiver).
FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Chris McAlister (tendered at $7.154M).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (11): OT Orlando Brown; LB Bernardo Harris; TE John Jones; CB Tom Knight; DE Riddick Parker; QB Chris Redman; PK Wade Richey; WR Marcus Robinson; PK Matt Stover; LB Adalius Thomas; QB Anthony Wright.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (8): OG Bennie Anderson; OT Damion Cook; DE Marques Douglas; LB Edgerton Hartwell; LS Joe Maese; C Casey Rabach; FB Alan Ricard; CB Raymond Walls.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (3): S Will Demps; WR Randy Hymes; DE Ma'ake Kemoeatu.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: C Mike Flynn; LS Mike Solwold.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Terrell Owens.
PLAYERS LOST: None.
MEDICAL WATCH: QB Kyle Boller had arthroscopic surgery to clean up damaged tissue in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. ... LB Ray Lewis is scheduled to have surgery on his thumb. ... DE Anthony Weaver had surgery on the middle finger of his right hand.