Lewis ended a five-day holdout and reported to Jacksonville's training camp. But he won't take part in any full-contact drills until he has a new contract.
"It's hard for me to just sit out there and watch other people do my job, but it's a unique situation," Lewis said. "I'm positive that this all will get done pretty soon. It's hard standing up here talking about it because I should be in my practice pants and my shoulder pads right now talking to you."
The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on Lewis after he caught 58 passes for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. The 6-foot-6, 262-pounder signed a one-year tender worth $7.28 million, the average salary of the five highest-paid tight ends in the league.
The NFL lockout prevented Lewis' agent, Bus Cook, and the Jaguars from working out a long-term deal. Both sides could have hammered things out last week, but the free-agent frenzy took center stage.
Lewis wasn't quite ready to leave California anyway. He said he needed several days to handle personal affairs, including moving out of his apartment and making sure his mother was settled, and missed the first five days of camp.
That's a hefty penalty, even for someone on the verge of a huge paycheck.
"I'm tired of sitting at the house worried about what's going on with my contract and all of that," Lewis said. "I decided to let that run its course and let the chips fall where they may. But me being here is for my team and I want to be a part of something big."
Lewis, who has 181 receptions and 17 touchdowns in five seasons, said he doesn't expect to be the highest-paid tight end in the league. San Francisco's Vernon Davis has that distinction after signing a five-year deal worth $37 million, including $23 million guaranteed. San Diego's Antonio Gates is close behind after signing a five-year, $36.175 million contract that includes $20.4 million guaranteed.
Lewis, the 28th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, has developed into one of the league's best all-around tight ends. He blocks defensive ends, beats linebackers up and down the field and creates holes for running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He also has become quarterback David Garrard's go-to guy, evidence by his red-zone numbers.
Del Rio simply calls him the "most dominant player on our football team."
"He's a guy that we've raised here the right way," Del Rio said. "He's done everything we've asked. I know we are going to get something done with him, he's going to be a Jaguar for some time to come."
Lewis said he doesn't need Davis- or Gates-type money, but he expects to be one of the four highest-paid tight ends in the league.
"I know what I have to offer, whether it's being on the field, a teammate, a locker-room guy, leadership," Lewis said. "You're not talking about a guy that's in the streets, that's messing up, that's not in the community. You're not talking about that. It's hard to explain."
The Jaguars have no concerns about Lewis' character or his dedication.
He spent the offseason taking part in mixed martial arts training, which he believes has him in the best shape of his life.
"That's changed my life, not just my body, but psychologically," he said. "It's one of those things where when you do the MMA stuff, if you go in there thinking that you could just whip people, it's not going to work. It's an ego thing, and if you don't leave your ego at the door, you'll find out really quick that it's not a good place you want to be at."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press