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Thursday, August 1, 2002
Lewis' $50 million agreement includes $19M bonus

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Ray Lewis
Lewis

During the painful salary cap-related belt-tightening that resulted in the offseason purge of 14 starters, the Ravens maintained the one player they could not be without was middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

He's not leaving Baltimore any time soon.

NFL sources confirmed Thursday morning the Ravens have reached agreement in principle with Lewis on a blockbuster contract that ranks as one of the most lucrative deals in league history.

Negotiated by agent Roosevelt Barnes over the past two days, Lewis' seven-year contract is worth about $50 million and includes a signing bonus of $19 million.

The whopping signing bonus validates Lewis' status as a premier playmaker. The fact is, middle linebackers aren't supposed to be paid like quarterbacks, but Lewis, arguably the league's most dominating defender, will be.

Lewis, 27, was the team's first-round choice in the 1996 draft and has been a force since entering the league. The former University of Miami star has 1,087 tackles, 19½ sacks, 12 interceptions, 56 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and four recoveries.

"I truly believe that they truly respect what I did, and what I am still able to do for this organization," Lewis told The Associated Press. "This is where I started my foundation, and this is where I wanted to end it. Now I can."

"When Ray goes, I'll go. If that's the way it works out, it will be fine with me," Ravens coach Brian Billick told AP.

Throughout the sporadic negotiations, which sometimes resulted in a long-distance spitting match between Barnes and Ravens coach Brian Billick, the agent contended his client deserved to be among the league's highest-paid players -- no matter his position. In the end, Baltimore management obviously agreed.

The two sides were still finalizing a few details Thursday morning, but all the major elements of the contract have been agreed upon. The deal should be finalized later in the day.

Sources familiar with the contract said that the structure is such that Lewis will realize nearly all of the money in the deal. The dollars apparently are not inflated and there are elements of the contract that ensure Lewis will remain with the club.

"It's not loaded up with a lot of Monopoly money, like some of those $100 million deals," one source familiar with the negotiations said.

On a per-year average basis, it is believed that only defensive end Michael Strahan of the New York Giants has ever signed a better deal. In 1999, Strahan signed a contract worth $8 million per year, but his signing bonus was $12 million. Reports throughout the spring had indicated Lewis would receive upfront money in the $20 million range.

Lewis had two seasons remaining on his existing contract and was scheduled to earn a base salary of $4.75 million this year and next. But with a salary cap number of $8.47 million, and the Ravens in dire need of spending room, it was imperative the two sides strike a deal. The new contract should free up about $1 million-$1.5 million in cap room for 2002 and permit Baltimore to add at least one more veteran player.

It could put the Ravens back in the chase for free agent defensive tackle Sam Adams, who played the past two seasons in Baltimore, depending on how a deal was structured. Adams is represented by Barnes' partner, Eugene Parker, who said Wednesday that his client "is still waiting" for the right contract offer.

Barnes also represents Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who led the AFC in sacks last season, and whose contract the club also hopes to restructure. It is believed that the two sides are not close to an agreement on Boulware, who is in the final season of his contract. He will earn $4.3 million in base salary and has a cap value of $5.7 million.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.