League Reacts To Lewis Leaving Game
Ravens 17-year linebacker Ray Lewis stunned the league with his unexpected announcement that this postseason will he his "last ride."
Below are players, coaches and analysts' reaction:
Never wanted to let Lewis down (Deion Sanders, former Ravens teammate): "When I played with the Ravens, as a defensive player and a 37-year old savvy veteran, you didn't want to let Ray Lewis down, no matter the situation.I don't care if it was practice, you didn't want to let him down. You wanted to win at all costs."
What goes unnoticed (Trent Dilfer, former Ravens teammate): "He was the best defensive player on the field every game he played. Off the field he was the best. He had this unique ability to resonate with every single person in the locker room. And that's hard to do. …The biggest thing that goes unsaid about Ray is how much he invests in the relationships with his teammates. You see the antics. You see the enthusiasm, the passion on the field, but off the field he's the first guy to go sit at a locker with someone that's struggling with something, whether it's football related or not football related. He has that personal touch. … You trust everything about him and he makes everybody better. There's an intensity to him. That intensity is authentic. It's genuine and it's always directed at making the football organization better. … When I say he's the best, really in my experience in the National Football League, I've never seen a person better than him at those three layers: preparation, leadership and play."
Remembering Lewis as a 17-year-old college kid (Warren Sapp, former Hurricane teammate): "I was standing there at the University of Miami the first time he walked in a huddle as a 17-year old kid from Polk County, Lakeland, Florida and stuttered [in] the huddle, if you can believe that. He stuttered out of his mouth. I was like, 'What? Ray, if you're going to stand in front of this huddle, you have to call it.' He went out and had 20 tackles and an interception at Colorado, and the rest is history."
Hurt to battle Lewis (Eddie George, drafted the same year, Titans playoff opponent): "We had some battles, Ray and I. The Titans and Ravens had some battles. But Ray still has the Super Bowl trophy from that year, and that hurts. We had our best team that year, and they found a way to win. …On the field, I couldn't stand him, period. There was no friendship, no handshaking before the game. … There was some bad blood. We were both competitors. We both wanted to go to the Super Bowl, and it had to go through Baltimore and Tennessee at the time. If my career or his career ended on the day that we battled, then so be it. That was the mindset. But there was great respect for him off the field, and that's the way we kept it."
Loss will be a blow to the league (Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings): "It will definitely be a blow to the league to lose another guy like Ray Lewis. He definitely inspired me, just the passion and how he's dedicated to his craft to be the best. That's definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game. He will never be forgotten. He will be missed always."
Tremendous (Bill Belichick, New England Patriots): "Tremendous player, tremendous career. He's had a great career, he's a great player."
First-ballot Hall of Famer (Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts head coach, former Ravens defensive coordinator): "I thought, 'Shoot, the guy could play forever and would play forever.' He's obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he'll be sorely missed. He took great care of himself. Nobody trained as hard. He knew that was the only way to be able to stay and play at the level that he was able to play at and be as productive as he was in the latter years. It's just a testament to his work ethic."
Teammates taking care of business (wide receiver Torrey Smith): "Had to watch Big Ray announce his retirement...it has been amazing to play with him...We need to take care of business for him and our city"
Worthy opponent (Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders): "I'd like to take a moment to honor a great career and player in @raylewis a worthy opponent."
His speed revolutionized the middle linebacker position. (Mike Freeman, CBSSports.com): "[I]t wasn't work ethic that made Lewis the greatest middle linebacker of all time. It was speed. It was devastating, offense-wrecking, sideline-to-sideline speed that propels him past Dick Butkus as the GOAT at MLB. Butkus was a wrecking ball. Lewis was a projectile. Lewis, in many ways, defined the Second Age of Football. The first age, when Butkus dominated, was more about power. The second age, the one we're in now, is all about speed. … Lewis revolutionized the middle linebacker spot. It's fine to talk about others like Butkus or Jack Lambert or Mike Singletary. All great. No disrespect. None, though, had the longevity of Lewis, and, more importantly, none had the speed."
Final Home Game For Reed Too?
Is Baltimore losing just one future Hall of Famer or two?
In addition to saying goodbye to Lewis Sunday, there's a chance the wild-card game could be the last time fans see All-Pro safety Ed Reed run out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium too.
Reed is in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Reed has unsuccessfully tried to get a new deal, and the Ravens "probably won't be willing to pay Reed the $7.2 million that he received this season," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
The Ravens have made no attempts to re-sign Reed and the two sides haven't had contract discussions since before 2011 season, according to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.
"[M]any of Reed's teammates believe he will be gone," the NFL insider wrote.
The Ravens are expected to franchise quarterback Joe Flacco, if they can't come to a long-term agreement, and start the transition away from some of the aging defensive players.
Like they did with Lewis a few years ago, Ravens brass could allow Reed to test the free-agent waters, which "could prove deeper elsewhere."
"Given that backdrop, both Reed and Lewis enter this game knowing all that is at stake, emotionally and otherwise," La Canfora wrote. "No one is being naive about the murky future, and no one is taking for granted that Reed or Lewis will ever run out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium again. The business of football and the complications of age, injury and finances eventually catch up to everyone."
Deion Not Convinced Ray Is Done
Former teammate and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders isn't convinced that Lewis will actually walk away.
Shortly after Lewis' announcement, Sanders was asked for his reaction on the NFL Network.
"I don't believe it — I really don't," Sanders said.
Sanders knows what it feels like to retire, and then regret it enough to reverse course and lace up the cleats again. The dynamic cornerback came out of retirement in 2004 to play with Lewis and the Ravens.
The legendary linebacker could do the same if he feels healthy during the offseason and thinks Baltimore has another shot at a Super Bowl.
Sanders is awaiting the offseason to see if Lewis reassesses his decision.
"He could say, 'You know, I could do this again because we're almost there,'" Sanders said. "But if they're not close, then I can see Ray Lewis saying, 'This is a wrap.'"
While Sanders does think Lewis could change his mind, he doesn't think his former teammate will flip-flop as many times as quarterback Brett Favre infamously did so many times.
"Brett was on a carousel and he changed his mind so many times we got tired of it," Sanders said. "I don't think Ray Lewis is that kind of guy. He's always been a definitive guy."
How Lewis' Retirement Affects Salary Cap
Lewis was reportedly scheduled to have a 2013 salary cap number of $7.3 million, which included his base salary ($5.4 million) and bonus prorations ($1.9 million).
According to Brian McFarland of Russell Street Report, the Ravens are relieved of the $5.4 million, but will still have to account for all the bonus prorations scheduled for the three remaining years of his current contract that ends in 2015.
"That will leave the team with $2.95 million in dead money that will count against the 2013 cap," wrote McFarland. "So, the Ravens will have a 2013 cap savings of $4.35 million ($7.3 million – $2.95 million in bonus prorations) from Lewis' retirement."
Could Timing Backfire?
Many believe the timing of Lewis' retirement announcement was well planned, as it allows him to leave on his own terms and gives his teammates extra motivation to play for a Super Bowl to help end his legendary career.
"[T]here now have to be no touchy conversations about a reduced roll and a reduced salary," wrote La Canfora. "No, instead he gets a final playoff game, where even getting in for a few snaps would be a massive accomplishment. He gets that final, resounding, home salute he deserves with a season hanging in the balance. He spares Ravens fans the sight of, say, Ray Lewis in a Cardinals jersey the way Johnny U went out wearing San Diego's powder blues.
"And in doing so, he gives Ravens fans one last, lingering gift, walking away with the city at his feet, the Colts coming to town, and Canton awaiting his arrival."
What a gift that will indeed be to fans and the city.
But The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck wonders if it could all backfire.
"What no one wants to consider, however, is whether that wellspring of local sentiment and all the national media hype that is going to come with it over the next few days could turn out to be a two-edged blade," Schmuck wrote.
"Lewis has forced his way back into the spotlight after missing much of the regular season and, you could make the case, made Sunday's game more about himself than the team. Whether that makes him an inspiration or a distraction remains to be seen."
- The Ravens are proving John Harbaugh's decision to rest his starters Sunday to be fruitful. [The Baltimore Sun]
- Hensley on building a Ray Lewis statue: "The Ravens should just put Lewis in the Ring of Honor on Sunday, which is likely his final game in Baltimore. They need to make his No. 52 the first one the franchise will retire. They need to build a statue of Lewis right next to Johnny Unitas outside M&T Bank Stadium."
- @si_peterking: Catching up on news of day: I believe Ray Lewis will go down as a top 20 player of all time. Best sideline-to-sideline LB I have seen.
- Jameel McClain said he could tackle someone right now, just weeks after suffering a spinal cord contusion. [The Baltimore Sun]