J. Lewis: 'I really don't care what they do"

OWINGS MILLS -- Jamal Lewis' swollen thumb isn't the only thing that's troubling the Baltimore Ravens' former Pro Bowl running back. Resigned to his worst season ever and uncertain of his future as his six-year, $35.3 million contract will expire in three weeks, Lewis wants his freedom.

And Lewis' desire to explore his options as an unrestricted free agent could be blocked if the Ravens designate him as their franchise player.

As a franchise player, Lewis would be guaranteed roughly $6.5 million in salary in 2006. However, he wouldn't be able to switch teams unless someone is willing to compensate the Ravens with two first-round draft picks or attempts a trade.

"I don't see why you would franchise a person that you split time with, you give him the ball 10 or 14 times," said Lewis, adding that he won't be surprised if he's franchised. "I wouldn't waste a franchise tag on a person like that. Why would you?

"I'm sure they have something they want to do. I want to be compensated just like I am, hopefully recognized as one of the best backs in the NFL. One thing I do know, I will be playing football next year, whether it's here or anywhere else."

For Lewis, 26, it's been a turmoil-ridden year that began with him serving four months in a federal prison for a cocaine conspiracy plea bargain and two months in a halfway house while rehabbing a surgically-repaired right ankle.

"This season, it's been great because I'm free," Lewis said. "I had a rough offseason. Whether we win or lose, it matters, but, at the same time, there are people worse off than I am right now."

With a career-low 638 rushing yards and two touchdown runs, Lewis is two seasons removed from a 2,066-yard campaign that earned him NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. He ranks 23rd in the NFL in rushing with an average of just 53 yards per game.

"I went out and gave 100 percent to this organization for the last six years," Lewis said. "I went out and gave 100 percent all season long. I didn't have the big runs, I didn't have 1,000 yards. I'm close, but what can I say?

"When the season is over with, I know I can say I gave 100 percent to this organization. It happened the way it happened and that's that."

Lewis, who missed last week's game in Denver, remains questionable on the injury report with what he described as a strained thumb. He said he suffered the injury against the Houston Texans when he stiff-armed a defender and got his thumb caught in a face mask.

"I couldn't really grip the ball," Lewis said. "I didn't want to put us at risk or put myself at risk, so that's why I didn't go. It's still a little bit tight, but I'll be ready to go."

Lewis recently acknowledged that he rarely speaks with Ravens coach Brian Billick and prefers to communicate with running backs coach Matt Simon.

"I don't really care what they do upstairs," Lewis said. "If they're concerned, they can talk to my agent about that. Hopefully, they'll give me a heads up so I'll know what I need to do.

"This is all I have right here, and that's in this locker room. This is what I care about. I play for these guys right here."

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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