For Ravens' J. Lewis, a Tough Time to Share

"I don't see why you would franchise a person that you split time with him," said the Ravens' Jamal Lewis, who has been sharing time with Chester Taylor. (By Andy Lyons -- Getty Images)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Dec. 15 -- Running back Jamal Lewis expects to be on the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night when the Baltimore Ravens host the Green Bay Packers, but he continues to wonder where he will be next season.

Lewis, who is in the final year of his initial six-year, $35.5 million contract, said he would not be surprised if the Ravens (4-9) designated him as their franchise player, a move that would prevent him from becoming a free agent. But he also questioned why the Ravens would do so. During the second half of the season, Lewis has split time in the backfield with Chester Taylor.

"I don't see why you would franchise a person that you split time with him, you give him the ball 10 or 14 times," said Lewis, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft. "I wouldn't waste a franchise tag on a person like that. Why would you?"

Lewis has been candid with reporters throughout the season. Last week, he revealed he rarely talks to Coach Brian Billick (instead, Lewis speaks with position coach Matt Simon) and suggested his contract situation is the reason why he is rotating at running back with Taylor (an arrangement he has referred to as the "hokey-pokey").

On Thursday, Lewis deflected questions about whether there is bad blood between him and the front office: "I don't really care what they do upstairs," he said. This is all I have right here, and that's in this locker room. This is what I care about." He also turned aside speculation that he has been so outspoken throughout the season because he wants the organization to allow him to leave.

"I'm willing to take on whatever they give me," Lewis said. "I just want to play football, that's it. I want to play football, I want to be compensated just like I am, and hopefully be recognized as one of the best backs in the NFL. That's their decision. One thing I do know, I will be playing football next year, whether it's here or whether it's anywhere else."

Lewis missed portions of Thursday's practice and is listed as questionable for Monday, though he said he will be ready to play. He was a late scratch prior to Baltimore's 12-10 loss at Denver on Sunday because a hand injury prevented him from gripping the ball. He injured his thumb on Dec. 4 against Houston; as he attempted to stiff-arm a defender, his thumb got caught in the player's helmet and stretched back.

The injury was the latest setback in a disappointing season for Lewis, who ran for more than 2,000 yards in 2003. He needs 362 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the season, a mark he's achieved in each of his four healthy seasons. Lewis has 638 yards on 203 carries, a career-low average of 3.1 yards per carry.

He ran for 113 yards at Cincinnati on Nov. 27 (the only time he's broken 100 yards this season), and the following week he received eight carries against the Texans. With Lewis out, Taylor, who was so effective earlier in the season, ran for 59 yards on 20 carries and fumbled once in Denver last week.

Despite all his struggles, Lewis described this season as "great."

"Because I'm free," said Lewis, who spent four months in a federal prison and two months in a halfway house as part of a plea agreement on federal drug conspiracy charges. "I had a rough offseason. So just being here, practicing and playing -- whether we win or lose, it matters, but at the same time, there are people doing worse off than I am right now. You just have to prepare for next season. Seasons like this happen all over the league When the season is over with, I know I can say I gave 100 percent to this organization, 100 percent this season. It happened the way it happened, and that's that."

Ravens Note: The Ravens placed guard Keydrick Vincent on injured reserve because of a thigh injury. Vincent is the fifth Baltimore starter to have his season end prematurely because of injury, joining fullback Alan Ricard (calf), safety Will Demps (knee), linebacker Ray Lewis (hamstring) and tackle Orlando Brown (back) on the injured reserve list.

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