J. Lewis vents about contract, season

OWINGS MILLS -- Mt. Jamal is smoldering, and preoccupied. Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis remains disgruntled about his unresolved contract situation, and highly frustrated at a stalled offense that relies on him as its centerpiece. Although the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year never raised his voice Thursday while saying he's tired of being blamed for the lowest-scoring offense in the league, he acknowledged that his mind is focused on more than football.

In the final year of a six-year, $35.3 million contract, Lewis even suggested that he needs to protect his body because a major injury could derail his market value.

"I'm not the type that's going to lay down," said Lewis, who's making $3.58 million this season after serving four months in a federal prison and two months in a halfway house for using a cellular phone to arrange a drug deal. "At the same time, it's going to be in the back of your mind. You want to go out and you want to play hard and you want to be careful because this is my last year on my deal.

"I just kind of found out I'm not a youngster anymore, and this is really a business. There is two sides to it. There's the organization, and there's the locker room."

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, Lewis has previously said that the organization reneged on a promise to give him a new deal if he accepted a plea bargain in his cocaine conspiracy case. The Ravens (2-4) have the option of assigning the franchise tag to Lewis, which would pay him the average of the top five running back salaries.

While Lewis ranks 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (54.3) after gaining a league-high 2,066 yards in 2003, he claims he hasn't lost his fire.

"I haven't lost my passion for the game," Lewis said. "I must admit at the beginning of the season, I felt kind of the organization did turn against me. Now, I just love to go out and play the game of football.

"It doesn't get into your passion, it doesn't get into your preparation. But it does sink in the back of your mind when you're out there busting your tail for this organization, that next year, who knows where you might be?"

Ravens coach Brian Billick adamantly denied that Lewis isn't giving it his all, saying he's seen no evidence of the former Pro Bowl runner letting up despite his diminished production and unsettled future.

Minutes prior to Lewis' remarks, Billick alluded that Lewis has been assured that he's part of the franchise's future. Apparently, they're not on the same page.

"Is it altering the way he's approaching the game? Absolutely not," Billick said. "He's too professional. He knows he's going to be here. That's conjecture from those that really don't understand what it is to play this game."

Lewis has rushed for only 326 yards on 113 carries for a 2.9 average, a career-worst start.

"I went and evaluated myself, watching film from 2003 and 2004 and 2005 to see if I'm doing anything wrong. I just don't see it," Lewis said. "This is not an individual sport. It's not one person.

"Right now, it's not clicking. So, who's to blame? The 2,000-yard rusher. I'll take that. Me getting off to a slow start, maybe it's because of the offseason, maybe it's because of the ankle."

Although he underwent right ankle surgery in February, Lewis denied that his health is the primary reason for not having a run longer than 25 yards.

"Physically, I'm healthy," Lewis said. "The only thing is the ankle. It's as good as it's going to be. It takes time. It's just getting that explosion to get that hole and get downfield."

Lewis hasn't eclipsed the century mark in six games, the longest stretch of an NFL career that began in 2000.

Although there aren't gaping holes from the offensive line and the passing game rarely generates big plays, Lewis is aware that he's the one being counted on to breathe life into a moribund offense.

That burden appears to be getting heavier for the 5-foot-11, 245-pound runner to bear.

"Everybody is depending on you," Lewis said. "I gave and gave and gave over the last five, six years. I gave it all. There has to be a change. I expect it to be easier for me sometimes.

"I expect I don't have to beat up on defenses all the time. Hopefully, that day will come. If not, five or years from now, I'm going to be torn down. You do get frustrated and tired from it."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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