J.Lewis expected to play against Redskins

OWINGS MILLS - Baltimore Ravens star running back Jamal Lewis' agreement with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to using a cellular phone to facilitate a drug transaction Thursday in Atlanta will avoid the possibility of serving a decade in prison, or jail time during football season.

However, that action will likely trigger a sequence where Sunday night's contest against the Washington Redskins could be Lewis' last game for up to four games because pleading guilty to a drug-related offense is a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy and will draw sanctions from the league, including a suspension.

Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated Monday that he expected the league management council to rule on Lewis' situation during the team's bye week, which follows the Redskins game, not immediately after the running back enters the plea Thursday in his hometown.

Lewis is expected to miss practice Thursday for legal obligations, return to Baltimore Thursday night and then work out Friday and Saturday before a Sunday night kickoff at FedEx Field.

The fallout from the guilty plea will include an undetermined punishment from the NFL in addition to a four-month stint in a minimum-security prison, two months in a halfway house/home confinement and hundreds of hours of community service.

Lewis, 25, has twice before violated the NFL drug policy, serving a four-game suspension without pay in 2001. A third strike could include a suspension of two to four games, a fine, or a combination of both sanctions.

Billick cautioned against judging Lewis harshly and expressed support for his embattled running back.

"I would suggest that you all wait and see what the circumstances are before you rush to judgment because there are some particular circumstances of which I think you will see why we hold firm to our belief in Jamal and believe in him," Billick said. "You'll see why our support is so strong for Jamal.

"This clearly was a 20-year old young man, a junior out of college five years ago, that had a serious lapse in judgment, but not the degree that people are portending right now. What you'll see him plea to is very specific. Then, we'll wait for the league to respond and we'll respect that process."

Lewis and co-defendant Angelo "Pero" Jackson, a childhood friend, were indicted in February on charges of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine stemming from an FBI investigation into an alleged drug conspiracy in the summer of 2000 one month before Lewis signed a $35 million contract with Baltimore.

Lewis' legal team of Ed Garland and Don Samuel have alleged that their client was entrapped by key government informant Tomeka Richard, a woman with multiple aliases and an extensive criminal record.

It's unclear whether Lewis will testify against Jackson in a Nov. 1 trial. Garland and Samuel didn't return telephone calls Tuesday.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has wide discretion in these matters, and Lewis will have the right to appeal the league's decision. That could drag the outcome out for weeks a la Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith, but probably not until after the season.

"The next part of the process is what the league chooses to do and we'll defer to the league in terms of the sequencing," Billick said. "Whether it's a suspension now or next year, that's strictly up to the league.

"I don't want to characterize it one way or the other. Everyone has to have their rights observed across the board: the league management council, the union. The commissioner will take in all the circumstances and go forward and that would take a while to sort through."

Billick emphasized that Lewis should be available to play against the Redskins, the Ravens' geographic rival.

"It's our understanding it's very unlikely to be any judgment with regards to what the league chooses to do that would impact this game," Billick said.

During a suspension, running-back duties would be shared by Chester Taylor and Musa Smith.

"I don't think anything has changed from what we originally talked about how we would deal with the circumstances," Billick said.
Lewis rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in a 27-24 loss Monday night to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Afterward, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year said his focus is strictly on football, not this legal imbroglio.
"That's going to take care of itself," Lewis said of his legal problems early Tuesday morning at M&T Bank Stadium. "Honestly, that's the least of my worries right now. This is my job. This is what I do. I'm at work."

Through four games, Lewis has rushed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards on 77 carries.

Billick said he hasn't noticed any outward change in his star runner, whose only other reported brush with the law was a minor shoplifting charge as a teenager that was settled without jail time.

"Jamal has a great deal of maturity about it," Billick said. "He's a quiet young man, a little reserved. Sometimes, you don't know what's going on with him. We all have things going on in our lives and this is quite serious. He's been very focused through it all and I've been quite impressed."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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