Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis plans to retire at the end of this season after 17 years in the NFL. (Nick Wass/AP

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis plans to retire at the end of this season after 17 years in the NFL. (Nick Wass/AP)

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced on Wednesday that he will retire following the playoffs. The Ravens, who have employed Lewis for 17 years, will begin the postseason with Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.

To discuss Lewis’s career and the Ravens’ chances to extend it into another Super Bowl, Bill Littlefield spoke with Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, who said Lewis’s announcement was somewhat unexpected.

“There was no doubt that everyone believed that there was a decent chance this was the last year of his likely Hall-of-Fame career,” Zrebiec said, “but the manner in which he delivered the news I think was a surprise, and the timing of it.”

“He’s done about as well as you can rehabbing his image… but that’s always going to be on his record. When we write the story about Ray Lewis and his career and the retirement, that has to be mentioned, and that has to be mentioned pretty high up in it.”
– Jeff Zrebiec, on Ray Lewis's criminal record

Lewis’s accomplishments include 13 Pro Bowls, seven first-team All-Pro selections, and one Super Bowl title, for which he was named MVP. Zrebiec said Lewis will likely be remembered as one of the best middle linebackers to ever play in the NFL, along with the Chicago Bears’ Mike Singletary and Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lewis was eventually convicted of obstruction of justice in a 2000 murder case and settled a civil suit brought by the family of one of the murdered men. As the pro football world celebrates him as a player, Zrebiec said those episodes should also be recognized as part of his legacy.

“You can’t completely ever get away from that,” Zrebiec said. “He’s done about as well as you can rehabbing his image.  He’s been amazing in the Baltimore community and also in Florida, all the things that he’s done with charity, but that’s always going to be on his record. When we write the story about Ray Lewis and his career and the retirement, that has to be mentioned, and that has to be mentioned pretty high up in it.”

Zrebiec expected that Lewis’s retirement announcement will give the Ravens a boost as they start postseason play, as he returns from an injury.

“Now that he’s back, I think they’ll really benefit from his leadership,” Zrebiec said. “He’s nowhere near the same player that he’s been throughout his career, but his knowledge of the game and his leadership ability still hold a lot of weight with the Ravens.”

For the Ravens to bounce back from a slump and go deep in the playoffs, Zrebiec said the team’s offense needs to step up.

“The guy you have to look at is quarterback Joe Flacco,” Zrebiec said. “He’s entering the final weeks of his rookie deal here. He’s due to hit free agency, he’s looking for a huge payday, and a playoff run would go a long way toward proving that he’s deserving of the kind of money that he wants. They just need really good quarterback play. They can’t do it without Joe Flacco getting hot here and taking their offense down and putting up points. He’s going to be the X-factor all playoffs long.”