As Ravens fans may or may not know 75% of their linebacking corp are scheduled to become free agents this off-season, specifically they are Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott. The only starting LB under contract for next season is Jarrett Johnson; so if these guys don't come back, say hello to Antwan Barnes, Nick Greisen, and Tavares Gooden. Over the next day or so we'll take a look at each LB's circumstances. Today we'll look at Ray Lewis.
Ray Lewis is clearly the face of the franchise; however, he'll be 34 years old by the time week 1 of the 2009 season rolls along. So the challenge is finding a fair and reasonable contract for a player who may be in the twilight of his career (although he doesn't seem to be slowing down and is still making plays week in, week out). Although, its been proven time and time again that as players age they're more suceptible to injury (ie, Rodney Harrison); inevitably your body is eventually going to betray you because we're not built for this type of long-term battering.
By no means am I trying to compare these two players in terms of what they mean to their respective teams and cities, but one contract that intriques me, when considering an appropriate contract for Ray Lewis, is the contract received by Donnie Edwards of KC in 2007. Edwards was signed as a UFA by KC, at the time he signed his contract he was just shy of 34. He signed a 3 year deal, meaning KC expected to have him under contract for ages 34, 35, and 36. The contract guaranteed Edwards $7.5M and averaged $4.5M per year, for a total package of $13.5M. On this contract, Edwards earned over 2 years $9M, and over 3 years $13.5M. If the Ravens can get Lewis at $4.5M per year, then they would've truly got the "hometown discount." Other players in the $4.5M/yr neighborhood include Lewis' teammate Bart Scott, David Thornton, Pisa Tinoisamoa, and Morlon Greenwood (who??).
Another contract for consideration is that of the Redskins' London Fletcher. Like Lewis, Fletcher quarterbacks the defense and is the spiritual leader of his unit, if not his team. The Skins signed Fletcher as a UFA in 2007 at age 31. His contract was for 5 years, guaranteed him $10.5M and averaged $5M/yr for a total package of $25M. Over 2 years, Fletcher will make $12.75M and over 3 years he'll make $15M.
Lewis' most recent contract averaged $7.8M/yr; the only other non-Franchise tag, LB contract higher than this average was Urlacher's $8.7M/yr deal. Given everything he means to Baltimore, in my estimation Lewis could receive a pay-as-you-go contract for 5 years (2009-2013; ages 34-38) with an average of $7M/yr for a total package of $35M. However, over this $35M, I would estimate that he would receive a lower guarantee amount (relative to the other contracts in the $7M/yr neighborhood); Lewis' guarantee could be $8M-9M. Over 2 years he could make $17M and over 3 years he could make $23M. These numbers keep him in the upper echelon of LB contracts (ie, Pace, Adalius Thomas), but by guaranteeing less money, Lewis has to be on the team to make most of this money, as only 26% of his total package would be guaranteed.
In the end, I can't imagine the Ravens letting Ray leave Baltimore, and I would hedge on them getting a deal done (despite the rumors of the Cowboys being interested).
In my next entry, I'll take a look at Terrell Suggs.