J. Lewis cut, but it's not over yet

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens cut former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis on Wednesday rather than pay him an impending $5 million roster bonus, a salary-cap boosting transaction that doesn't necessarily spell the end of his tenure with the team after seven seasons. The Ravens have been negotiating with Lewis' agent, Mitch Frankel, on a more cap-friendly deal with offers exchanged.

The 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year's bonus was due March 3 along with a $5 million base salary for the 2007 season.
Two hours prior to waiving the franchise's all-time leading rusher, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a telephone interview that he was optimistic about how talks were going. He didn't indicate that either a restructured contract, or Lewis' release were imminent.
"We're working on it," Newsome said. "We're hopeful."
Later in the afternoon after releasing Lewis, Newsome said in a statement: "We are involved in negotiations with Jamal Lewis, and there has been good dialogue. Jamal has been a significant contributor to us in the last seven seasons. It's our hope to have him back with the Ravens."
Releasing Lewis, who carried a salary-cap figure of $11.6 million under his old contract, creates $8.3 million in cap room. Baltimore is now roughly $11.3 million under the league salary cap limit of $109 million. Lewis was paid $6 million last season, including a $5 million signing bonus.
"Jamal would like to remain a Raven for the rest of his career and that has been communicated," Frankel said. "We hope we can continue our conversations over the next few days in hope of reaching a new contract.
"I'm definitely not willing to discuss specific numbers from a terms standpoint, but, from Jamal's standpoint, he's open to a one-year or multi-year deal. There hae been offers back and forth, but, as of now, nothing has been mutually attractive."
Frankel said that Lewis would listen to inquiries from other clubs, but his first choice remains to be in Baltimore for an eighth season.
"I think the preference is to get a deal done with the Ravens, but if Jamal is free, he has to listen," Frankel said.
With a thin free agent class of runners that includes the Green Bay Packers' Ahman Green, the Indianapolis Colts' Dominic Rhodes and the Tennessee Titans' Chris Brown along with coveted San Diego Chargers restricted free agent Michael Turner as well as a middling draft class, Lewis could wind up being the Ravens' top option by default.
Lewis, 27, rushed for 1,132 yards last season and nine touchdowns, but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. He underwent minor surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle shortly after the season and is apparently recovering well.
Since rushing for 2,066 yards in 2003 for the second-most in league history, Lewis has undergone two ankle surgeries. He also served four months in a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., prior to the 2005 season after accepting a plea bargain in a federal cocaine conspiracy case, also spending two months in an Atlanta halfway house.
Over the past few seasons, Lewis hasn't demonstrated the same explosiveness and breakaway speed that he demonstrated by gaining an NFL-record 295 yards against the Cleveland Browns in September of 2003.
Lewis has rushed for a total of 3,044 yards and 19 touchdowns since 2004, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He averaged 5.3 per carry and scored 14 touchdowns in 2003.
Parting ways with Lewis would leave the Ravens with only veteran Mike Anderson, who wasn't used much last season in a backup role, on the roster along with P. J. Daniels, a fourth-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who never appeared in a game as a rookie last season.
"I love the Ravens, I've been here from the start, don't know anything else," Lewis said after the Ravens' playoff loss to the Colts. "Whether I'm here or not, I think the Ravens will be all right. But I love this team and wouldn't mind being back here."
NOTES: Newsome confirmed that the team has tendered all three of its restricted free agents, including return specialist B.J. Sams and wide receivers Clarence Moore and Devard Darling.
All three received the low tender of $850,000. By tendering them at that level, the Ravens retain the right of first refusal to match any offer sheet or receive draft-pick compensation for the round the player entered the league in.
All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas will undergo minor throat surgery Friday. Thomas has a raspy voice, which he damaged from repeated yelling on the football field.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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