After missing half of the regular season due to injury and with a playoff game on the horizon this weekend, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis decided to announce his retirement from the NFL after a remarkable seventeen-year career, in which he was voted to the Pro Bowl a dozen times.
And while Sunday’s game, in which the Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts, might be the last one Lewis plays on the field, he’ll be joining a new team soon enough.
The linebacker has agreed in principle to sign a multi-year contract with ESPN. While no official announcement will be made by the network until after the Ravens are eliminated from the playoffs, or Super Bowl XLVII, whichever comes first, he could be working for the Worldwide Leader as early as this year’s NFL Draft.
Ace sports media reporter Richard Deitsch, who first broke the story today, reported that Lewis, accompanied by representatives from a talent agency, had held meetings with networks that hold NFL broadcasting rights during the regular season that just ended last week.
This likely lends creedence to Lewis’ seemingly abrupt decision to call it quits in the NFL this week.
What led Lewis to choose ESPN over the other networks is their willingness to allow a work schedule that would be flexible so that he can watch his son, Ray III, play football for the University of Miami, which the elder Lewis attended for three seasons before foregoing the final year to be drafted in the first round (26th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Ravens.
CBS and Fox, which air weekly NFL pregame shows on Sundays, may have required Lewis to attend meetings on Saturday afternoons while most Hurricane football games are being played, as Deitsch points out.
But Lewis’ landing at ESPN was a foregone conclusion, and here’s why: in addition to the above, ESPN would have dug deeper into their war chest for such a vibrant personality, one that Deitsch says was highly coveted on all five networks’ radars. They could easily outbid NBC and CBS, who could use Lewis in certain aspects for their upstart cable and sports radio networks.
Then there’s the NFL Network. While Lewis would no doubt fit right in with the crew in Culver City, there’s reason to believe that, as long as Roger Goodell is commissioner of the league, which operates the network, Lewis would never be hired at NFLN, due to his involvement in that post-Super Bowl stabbing in 2000. True, he was never proven guilty, but given Goodell’s gung-ho nature on violence, inside the NFL and out, he likely would never agree to oversee a deal to bring Lewis to NFLN’s airwaves.
And so, rather than be reunited with Brian Billick, a Fox NFL analyst who is a regulsr contributor to NFL Network, he will instead team up once again with Trent Dilfer, the quarterback of the Super Bowl XXXV-winning Ravens team.
By the way, Disney selected Dilfer, and not Lewis, to utter their iconic “I’m going to Disney World” phrase in their annual Super Bowl ad.
And Disney currently owns ESPN, just as they did back in 2001.
I suppose Dilfer won’t be taking any words out of Lewis’ mouth this time around.
So with ESPN bringing Lewis on board, possibly for their “Monday Night Countdown” program, the question is, which of the ensemble cast of ten will be affected, if at all? In addition to ESPN talent Chris Berman and Stuart Scott, you have a six-pack of former NFL figures (Dilfer, Tom Jackson, Steve Young, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter) plus league insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen. And that’s not counting the “Monday Night Football” boothmates of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (if he decides not to resume his coaching career).
We’d have to think that, of the aforementioned ex-NFL athletes and coaches, Carter and Johnson are the most vulnerable, and Carter just recently re-upped with the Worldwide Leader.
Johnson? The last thing he made news for was for starting his new wine label.