Ravens reunite with J. Lewis

OWINGS MILLS -- It was nearly midnight Sunday when running back Jamal Lewis called Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a phone call that ultimately led to a reunion that nearly didn't happen. Already booked on a Monday afternoon flight to visit the Denver Broncos, Lewis wondered if the Ravens still wanted him after securing former Broncos runner Mike Anderson on Sunday night for $8 million.

"I just called Ozzie and asked him what was going on, what the deal was so I could know," Lewis said in a conference call from Atlanta. "I had a visit to Denver, so I was just trying to figure out if that was still on or not."
Lewis got his answer shortly after midnight with a three-year, $26 million deal that including a $5 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary in 2006. Financial protection inserted in the contract language by Baltimore essentially makes this a one-year audition. Plus, Anderson's presence should be a motivating factor to Lewis as the two are expected to compete for playing time during training camp.
Following a disappointing season where Lewis complained about reduced carries and his unresolved status, the Ravens are banking on a career revival. Unlike last year, Lewis doesn't have to deal with being incarcerated in prison or ankle surgery.
"I have a feeling now that we have got this done that it is going to be a little different," Lewis said when asked if he's concerned about his workload. "I think it will change a little bit and that it will get back to the way it used to be."
That's exactly what the Ravens are hoping for after watching Lewis dip to a career-low 906 yards last season after gaining 2,066 yards in 2003 when he was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Lewis' yardage has declined two years in a row.
"We are so excited to have Jamal back," Newsome said. "If you look at his history, he always rebounds in a big way from adversity. He had a tough 2005 that started with surgery, his incarceration, and then dealing with all of the turmoil during the season with the contract hanging over his head. We expect big things from him."
Just in case Lewis doesn't return to form, the Ravens have covered their bet. He's due a $5 million roster bonus in March of 2007 with his salary jumping to $5 million and an identical roster bonus and salary in 2008.
The Ravens can decide after this year if they want to keep Lewis by paying him the scheduled $10 million total, which isn't a likely proposition, restructure his contract to make it more salary-cap friendly, or part ways by cutting him.
"The Ravens were very fair in compensating Jamal and they can decide how they feel about it after the season," said Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel. "Jamal is hungry to prove that he's still one of the premier backs in the league."
If Lewis falters, the Ravens can turn to Anderson, 32, a former Marine who rushed for 1,014 yards and 12 touchdowns last season despite splitting time in Denver.
"Just last week, I was kind of scared," running backs coach Tony Nathan said. "Now, I feel like the cat that swallowed the canary."
Now, the Ravens are unlikely to use the 13th overall pick on a running back such as DeAngelo Williams or LenDale White.
Anderson has a fullback background and could line up in the backfield at the same time as Lewis. However the team lacks a proven third-down back to catch passes out of the backfield since Chester Taylor joined the Minnesota Vikings.
"With Jamal coming back, he's been the horse here for a while and we're going to continue to ride that," Nathan said. "I think this gives you the luxury that you can use either one. In the near future, we're going to find out if we can use both of them at the same time."
Anderson doesn't have a problem with Lewis' presence, according to the former Bronco's agent.
"Mike is accustomed to sharing the workload," Peter Schaffer said.
Anderson beat out Lewis in 2000 for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. In six seasons, Lewis has gained 6,669 yards to Anderson's 3,822 yards.
"I think he is one of those multi-purpose backs," Lewis said. "I am going to love playing with him."
When asked if his playing time was discussed during contract talks, Lewis replied: "I didn't bring that up. At the same time, I know the Ravens want to win and they know what it takes. They'll get it done."
With the 5-foot-11, 245-pound Lewis and 6-0, 230-pound Anderson, this should be a bruising running game.
"The running game is about power," Nathan said. "At some point in time, you have to be able to put the ball on the ground and kill the clock."
Lewis sold his house in Owings Mills to nose guard Kelly Gregg after the season, but said that shouldn't be interpreted as a sign that he doubted he would be back.
"I was going to sell my house anyways," Lewis said. "I kind of envisioned this. I'm happy this happened. I'm back with the fellas, back with my teammates and that's what's really more important than anything else."
NOTES: Linebacker Bart Scott closed his three-year, $13.5 million deal in an unsual location: outside the Cleveland Browns' players' lounge. He declined the Browns' five-year $25 million offer. "I just hoped I could make it out of Cleveland alive," Scott quipped Monday at the Ravens' training complex after signing his contract… The Ravens are talking with former Carolina punter Jason Baker, a potential replacement for Dave Zastudil. His agent, Frank Murtha, is trying to arrange a visit to Baltimore. He noted the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks as other contenders. Baker, who led the NFC with a 38.9 net average, was recommended by special teams coach Frank Gansz, his coach in Kansas City three years ago. .. Sean Landeta is another potential option … Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said Monday night that he hadn't been released yet after being told Friday by Newsome that he would be released Monday, a move that could save Baltimore $900,000 against this year's salary cap. "I'm just waiting to find out what's going on," said Brown, 35, who's scheduled to make a $2.75 million salary this year. ... The Ravens' remaining wish list includes a quarterback with Kerry Collins the most likely candidate along with a safety.
Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

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