Double Coverage: Ray Lewis

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and James Walker

Ray Lewis is a man who understands leverage.

That's why the free-agent linebacker spent part of the offseason trying to convince anyone who'd listen that he's always dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys would love to grant Lewis' wish, but they're busy trying to make DeMarcus Ware one of the richest men in football.

But try to suspend reality for a moment and imagine that Lewis really could end up with the Cowboys.

AFC North blogger James Walker and NFC Beast blogger Matt Mosley discussed this topic via e-mail earlier this week. In December, Mosley and Walker participated in what was hailed as the most successful blogger debate of the '08 season. Now, we've actually given this feature a name. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the first installment of Double Coverage, which includes English subtitles.

Mosley: James, it's a pleasure to be visiting with you in such an informal setting. I'm always more comfortable when thousands (perhaps millions) of people are eavesdropping. Anyway, I don't think the Cowboys are one player away from "getting over the hump." Honestly, it sort of depends on what you think the "hump" is. If it's winning a playoff game for the first time in 12 years, then certainly Lewis would help in that process. I think the man has way too much pride to allow his team to play like dogs in a do-or-die game like the season-ender against the Eagles.

But if Jerry Jones has learned anything over the years (and that's debatable), it's that you don't pay age. Lewis may still have a couple good seasons left, but you never know how he might fit into another defense. He has so much history with the Ravens that he knows every nuance of the defense. Another veteran, Zach Thomas, had a really tough transition in Dallas. I don't think it's guaranteed that Lewis flourishes in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.

Walker: I'm with you, Matt. It depends on the definition of "getting over the hump." For Dallas, it's winning -- or at least getting to -- the Super Bowl. The addition of Lewis alone won't do that for the Cowboys. Without Lewis, Dallas' defense was No. 8 in the NFL last year. With Lewis, who is 33, the unit might move up a notch or two but I doubt it translates into a Lombardi Trophy.

The Cowboys are paper champions not because of their linebackers, but because their most important player doesn't show up in important games. I hate to put so much blame on one player, but if I had a nickel for every big game Tony Romo has won, I'd have ... no nickels. Lewis cannot help in that respect.

Mosley: You're being a little harsh with Romo, but I'll let it slide this time. I'm wondering what your take was on linebacker Ware's recent comments about Lewis. Sounds like Lewis was lobbying him pretty hard.

Walker: Ware had no reason to lie about this, so I do believe there is truth to it. But what Lewis allegedly said is what a lot of free agents say at some point: They want to play in Dallas. I've heard Cincinnati Bengals receivers Chris Henry and Chad Ocho Cinco say the same thing this past year in the AFC North. I'm sure there are several others who have repeated the same sentiment. If Lewis speaks, obviously it makes bigger headlines, but talk is cheaper than money. Unless Lewis is willing to take a pay cut to play in Dallas, then putting the star on Lewis' helmet isn't really his dream scenario. Much of this decision will come down to the highest bidder and that team should be Baltimore, because Lewis means more to the Ravens than any other team.

Lewis is obviously using Ware to get the word out -- and that's fine. According to Ware, Lewis was already lobbying to become a Cowboy when the two teams met in December. Like any relatively young player, Ware has a tremendous amount of respect for Lewis and knows that he could help the Cowboys. But in the end, Ware needs to worry about his own record-breaking contract. Everyone wants to play for the Cowboys because of the constant exposure and belief that Jerry Jones will overpay age. But in reality, there's no way Lewis wants out of Baltimore. He exceeded the Ravens' expectations in 2008 and now he's attempting to hammer them on a contract. He loves all the Jets and Cowboys talk because it drives up his price. I guarantee you that none of his teammates are taking this seriously. But just for grins, James, how do you think Lewis would affect the Cowboys' toxic locker room situation?

Walker: To me, it's a case of simple math. One outsider cannot completely change the culture of a 53-man roster. The Cowboys brought in Thomas last year. It didn't work. Lewis is a stronger personality, but I don't see this move making enough of a difference.

Whether it's a relationship between two people or any group work environment, chemistry is developed over time. You cannot magically insert one Ray Lewis into a locker room full of problems and suddenly expect everything to be fine. Lewis won't be in the offensive huddle keeping Terrell Owens from demanding the football, for instance. Lewis would make most of his impact on defense, but that's not where most of the chemistry problems are. Therefore, I think this aspect is somewhat overrated.

Mosley: James I agree that it will take more than Lewis to clean up this mess, but he'd be a good place to start. Owens is the most powerful voice in the Cowboys' locker room. Unfortunately, he's not delivering a team-first message. Lewis has a big enough personality to limit T.O.'s impact -- and he might actually stand up to the receiver when he gets out of line. And James, T.O.'s problem isn't about what he says in the huddle or on the sideline. It's the fact that he's constantly undermining his quarterback and coaches behind the scenes. This is one of the most insecure players in the game. Lewis has enough skins on the wall to occasionally tell T.O. to shut up. He wouldn't solve all the Cowboys' issues, but he would certainly make an impact. The Cowboys are led by a powerless head coach. Someone has to fill the leadership vacuum and Lewis could be that guy. Will he be in Dallas next season? I wouldn't bet on it.

And one more thing: I don't think it's accurate to say the Thomas acquisition didn't work out. He had a solid year despite never feeling completely comfortable in the defense. He's a lead-by-example type of guy. Unfortunately, the players in the Cowboys' locker room weren't paying much attention to him.

James, what sort of money are we talking about to sign Lewis?

Walker: Well, Lewis made a $6.5 million salary for the past two years. That will be the starting point for the Ravens, but certainly not the ending point. If other teams like Dallas get involved, I wouldn't be surprised if that tag escalates as high as $8 or $9 million per year, especially since it would be a much shorter deal this time.

This is likely Lewis' final contract, so he is seeking a deal in the 3-4 year range. The most important part will be the first two years, because that's where most of the upfront, guaranteed money will be involved and that's when the Cowboys, or any prospective team, would get the most production from Lewis.

With that kind of price tag in mind, what do you think Lewis would bring on the field to Dallas and its new stadium?

Mosley: With that price tag in mind, I can tell you that the Ravens certainly will get to keep Lewis. There's no way the Cowboys can make Ware the richest defensive player in the league -- and have $9 million or so to spare for Lewis. But I do think Lewis would fit into the Cowboys' 3-4 scheme a lot better than Thomas did. Phillips would allow Lewis to freelance quite a bit. The guy he'd be playing next to, Bradie James, is coming off a career season. But Lewis is still the better player. Regarding the new stadium, Lewis would be a great marketing tool.

The Cowboys launched a new season-ticket marketing campaign in the local papers -- and on the NFC East Blog -- on Tuesday. Lewis would be happy to shill for "coach" Jones. But back to the field for a second: I don't think Lewis would be quite as effective in this scheme because the Cowboys don't have a space-eating nose tackle like the Ravens. Jay Ratliff's an excellent player, but he doesn't occupy as many people as Haloti Ngata. That's another reason Lewis gets to so many plays. The Ravens' interior linemen are a huge part of the linebackers' success.

Call me crazy, James, but wouldn't you rather have the younger Bart Scott than Lewis?

Walker: I like both players, Matt. But if I'm Baltimore, Lewis means much more to the Ravens than any other team. That's why the Ravens are most likely to pay the biggest bounty. The $8-$9 million price tag might not get to that point unless the Cowboys join in the party. This is why Lewis is making public overtures with the Cowboys and New York Jets. He's playing the game.

Covering Lewis closely, I can tell you that he would bring knowledge, talent and intensity. These are all things Dallas can benefit from. The only question is how much does Lewis have left? Lewis is one of the greatest linebackers ever, so even in his final years he is playing at a Pro Bowl level. But the Cowboys cannot reasonably expect the same production from Lewis when he is 35 or 36.

The Cowboys always look for the short-term fix and it never works. It's time that they learn from their mistakes and slow their brakes in overpaying for Lewis.

Mosley: James, give me the younger player. But I do agree that Lewis is a much more effective leader. Please stop asking the Cowboys to "learn from their mistakes." Jerry Jones has never met a mistake that he couldn't chase with another mistake. The man's been good for the NFL, but his suggestion that the Cowboys' locker room is in fine shape was ludicrous. Here's one little nugget for Cowboys fans to ponder: I think there's still a very good chance Jones releases T.O. before June 1. I know you guys will try to have me committed for saying that, but I'll have the last laugh on this one. Thanks for the memories.

And if you have any suggestions for future Double Coverage to
pics, please let us know. For James Walker, I'm Matt Mosley signing off.