Even as the Baltimore Ravens consider their options with running back Jamal Lewis, reports have surfaced in the past week that say the Ravens are considering placing the franchise tag on Lewis and exploring a trade that would send him to Minnesota in exchange for quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Culpepper would like to rework his contract for more guaranteed money and Lewis might not be happy if the Ravens place the franchise tag on him and enter the 2006 season without an extension. The franchise tag would pay Lewis $6.1 million in 2006 and the transition tag would be for $5.2 million. If the Ravens don't franchise him, he would become a free agent on March 3.
"You've got two great players. It's just customary with some teams that if they're having negotiation problems, they try to switch things around. If a player gets new scenery, it's like maybe it's going to change his attitude and it's going to be better for the team," said an NFL source connected to the situation.
"They're both having trouble, so they're saying, ‘OK, you're getting mad at us, let's switch teams and we'll get two good players.' Rather than giving up a draft pick, you still get a great player for a great player."
"It's no different than any player that has a contract dispute. Management gets all pissy-fitty, players get all pissy-fitty—that's why they've got agents."
In fact, Culpepper fired his agent, Mason Ashe, last month, which was part of a series of developments in the saga that has become Culpepper's stress-filled off-season.
While it sounds like trading one unsatisfied former Pro Bowler for another might be a win-win situation, Culpepper's injury situation complicates any potential deal. The quarterback tore three ligaments in his knee on Oct. 30, 2005, an injury that generally brings with it a 12- to 18-month recovery period. However, Culpepper is reportedly one month ahead in his rehabilitation schedule and has lost 30 pounds since the injury.
Still, the source would give the Vikings the upper hand if that trade were ever consummated.
"I don't think that's a good trade for the Ravens simply because Jamal is going to be ready this year. Culpepper, they don't even know if he's going to be ready," the source said.
"Jamal's got great legs and his body is in great shape. To me, he's got a healthy body and Culpepper's got one really bad leg. A quarterback, I guess, can have a bad leg. For a running back, that'd be more severe. I think it might just restrict Culpepper's mobility, but a running back might not be the same running back."
The source also indicated that Lewis might not be a great fit for the Vikings if they were looking for a true West Coast running back that could get open as a receiver out of the backfield.
"He's got good hands, but I think it's maybe like putting a square peg in a round hole. You draft guys for what they do. Baltimore had a power running game. It seems like the Vikings would just be trying to get a great player for a great player (if the trade talks are legitimate)," he said.
Lewis had 32 receptions out of the backfield last year for 191 yards, a 6-yard average. Shawn Alexander, the league MVP who played in a West Coast offense in Seattle in 2005, had only 15 catches for 78 yards, a 5.2-yard average.
Lewis, who rushed for 906 yards on 269 carries (3.4-yard average) last year, made $3.6 million in base salary. Culpepper, who passed for 1,564 yards, six touchdowns and 12 interceptions before being injured last year, is scheduled to make $2 million in base salary in 2006 and is due a $6 million roster bonus in mid-March. His base salary escalates to $5.5 million in 2007, $6 million in 2008 and 2009, and raises $1 million each year thereafter until expiring in 2013 at $10 million.
Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who is scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2006 and $6.5 million in 2007 and 2008, and safety Ed Reed, who is scheduled to make $2.15 million in the final year of his contract in 2006, both want new contracts as well.
"If they're not unloading some contracts, they're going to have some salary-cap problems," the source said of the Ravens. "That's going to be a tough one trying to re-sign all those guys."
The Vikings are expected to be looking for help at all of those positions in free agency and the draft.
Source: Lewis Trade Bad for Baltimore
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