Leadership is invaluable, so they say. It can be the difference-maker, an intangible element than can catapult a good team toward greatness, a great team toward a championship.
So they say.
And yet, Ray Lewis couldn’t get a sniff. The quintessential leader in all of sports, a man coming off a Pro Bowl season (his 10th), a man who works as hard as any player in any sport, couldn’t find a team that would look past his 33-year-old body and value his ability to transform a mere defense into a near-impenetrable force. Instead, the market for his talents is as null as the Dow.
This is not a sympathy play. At least not for Lewis, the Ravens’ heart/soul/beast/linebacker. He re-signed with Baltimore for three years and a reported $22 million. He will finish his Hall of Fame NFL career with the same team that drafted him in 1996 out of Miami (back when the ‘Canes were kick-ass). Lewis sounded humbled at the announcement of his signing, knowing that in an age of free agency and chase-the-check roster movements, he is a true anomaly.
“From beginning to end as a Raven,” he said before pausing. “Wow.”
Lewis deserved his deal. The Ravens were one of the surprise teams last season, largely because of their second-in-the-league defense, led by the Ragin’ Raven, Lewis.
Statistically, he had 117 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks. Real numbers. Yet there were others who had better numbers. Others who were younger and had more tackles, more sacks, more “upside.” So they said.
So when the NFL’s free-agent season opened, Lewis was “money-balled,” NFL-style. Teams signed linebackers with better numbers but guys you wouldn’t know from me if they stood next to you at the mall.
This is a sympathy play for the death of leadership.
Ray Lewis is among the last of a breed. A defensive howitzer in the mold of Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Deion Sanders. He is smart, academically prepared for games. And he’s the guy offenses watch, even at 33. Where is Ray Lewis? What’s he thinking?
Would not the T.O.-less Cowboys have been better with Lewis as their “face”? You think he might have been able to light a torch under Tony Romo rather than try to torch him?
Would not the Jets and a few other teams that were on the market for a linebacker have been better with Lewis?
Yes, they would have.
They would have had a leader who inspires by example, who sets the bar high and who plays with a presence.
But they passed.
Maybe they passed because leadership is hard to quantitfy. It’s hard to put a price tag on passion.
So they say.
Photo by AFP/Getty Images/File/Streeter Lecka)