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Lewis says he 'didn't go that far' in free agency, stayed loyal to Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Ray Lewis said Thursday that during his brief experience as a free agent, he was just "flirting" with the idea of ending his NFL career with another team.

But in the end, a seven-year contract offer from the Ravens and the ability to cement his legacy in Baltimore turned out to be too much to turn down.

More from Lewis

"When I'm done, I'm going to be proud to say that there's only one, only one color jersey I ever put on in my life. There's only one color I ever put on. That, for me, is why I play this game. That, for me, that's the legacy I've always chased. Always." **More ...**

It also happened to be the best deal on the table.

So after the 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker tested the free-agent market, he ultimately signed the deal he initially received from Baltimore. Now Lewis almost assuredly will finish his NFL career where it started.

It was Lewis' first experience as a free agent since being drafted in 1996 by the Ravens, and he liked the idea of at least getting an idea of his worth.

"The bottom line is, was it ever a decision for me to leave Baltimore? I don't think so," Lewis said. "I've watched great ones make that mistake. I've watched them walk out and try to chase something else that wasn't real."

Lewis signed the contract with the Ravens on March 10, but the team waited until Thursday to hold a press conference so the 33-year-old linebacker could be joined by team owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh.

Bisciotti said the Ravens made Lewis a solid offer before the beginning of the free-agency period. Instead of immediately accepting the deal, Lewis requested the opportunity to see if there was a better offer available elsewhere.

Bisciotti readily agreed, even though it was rumored that the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys were interested in the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"(I knew) somebody might want to throw crazy money at him," Bisciotti said. "All he wanted was the freedom to see what his market is. There was worry that somebody would pay him and he would leave. ... After 13 years, he might have been excited to go to New York or Dallas to do something different. If he'd have chosen that, we'd still all be friends and we'd have the money to reapply to someone else."

Given the opportunity to take a hiatus from the team that drafted him as a 20-year-old out of the University of Miami was exciting for Lewis. But he discovered that what he had was better than what could be.

"Opportunity knocks every freaking day of life," he said. "In this business, a lot of things can be flirtatious. But the bottom line is how far you're willing to flirt. I didn't go that far. I was OK with flirting with the woman I started with, and that was the Ravens."

Truth is, Lewis never even came close to leaving Baltimore.

"I didn't take a trip, I didn't visit anyone else's facility. I didn't do any of that," he said. "That would have took away from why I do what I do for my city. Why, when I put that purple jersey on my back, I give everything for every fan in the stands."

Lewis would have considered wearing a different colored jersey next season, but no team offered him enough to make him turn his back on the Ravens.

"To be brutally honest, I had more contact with my organization than I had with anybody," he said.

Lewis and the Ravens have been together through a Super Bowl, two AFC Championship games, several rebuilding years and three head coaches. And now they will remain together until the middle linebacker or the team decides it's time to quit.

"Me being a Raven, it was supposed to be that way," Lewis said. "I started here, I'm ending here."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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