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Lewis makes sure he remains a Raven forevermore in his career

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- Even after negotiations dragged on for months, Ray Lewis never imagined playing for anyone but the Baltimore Ravens.

The All-Pro middle linebacker wound up with a contract that will keep him in Baltimore for the next seven years, and possibly until the end of his NFL career.

The 27-year-old Lewis agreed to a five-year extension Thursday that included a $19 million signing bonus. The five-time Pro Bowl star had two years left on a deal that was to pay him $4.75 million a season. He now has a seven-year contract worth about $50 million.

The Ravens and Lewis' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, began contract talks last year. Harsh words were exchanged but Lewis remained confident.

''I don't think there was a doubt about me being a Baltimore Raven,'' he said. ''I just think there was a doubt about a number that both parties could agree upon.''

Lewis ended up with enough money to fulfill a promise he made to his mother long ago, and the Ravens secured his services through 2008.

''I think it's a win-win for both parties,'' Barnes said. ''For the Ravens, it's like signing a franchise quarterback. You want to tie those guys up and make sure the organization has one of its cornerstones in place for the next seven years.''

Lewis, in turn, ended up with the payday he yearned for since he first started playing the game.

''I talked to my mom yesterday, and tears were rolling down my eyes when I told her this wasn't my contract,'' Lewis said. ''When I was 9 or 10 years old, I promised her something. Now she's set for life.''

Although the contract gives Baltimore enough salary-cap room to negotiate with defensive tackle Sam Adams -- who played for the Ravens last year -- the most important aspect of the agreement was wrapping up Lewis for the long haul.

''He's a very good football player, and he's going to be a big part of our success over the next seven years,'' said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. ''It's a relief, knowing he's going to be a Raven.''

Lewis led the NFL with 196 tackles last year and was a key figure in the Ravens' drive to the Super Bowl in 2000. Clearly, he is the finest player on a team torn apart by a salary-cap purge during the offseason.

''I truly believe that they truly respect what I did, and what I am still able to do for this organization,'' Lewis said. ''This is where I started my foundation, and this is where I wanted to end it. Now I can.''

Since coming to Baltimore as the 26th overall pick in the 1996 draft, Lewis has been the Ravens' leading tackler in each of his six seasons. He led the league in tackles in 1997, '99 and last year, when he also tied a career with three interceptions and 3 1/2 sacks.

With a big assist from Lewis, the Ravens made the playoffs for a second straight year. Now the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder finds himself in the middle of a massive rebuilding project.

''This assures that Ray will end his career as a Baltimore Raven,'' Barnes said. ''Hopefully, I'll be introducing him in Canton in a few years.''

Lewis appears on a course for the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite being charged two years ago in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice, was put on probation for one year and fined $250,000 by the NFL for ''detrimental conduct.''

The following season he took the Ravens to their first NFL title. He was honored as defensive player of the year and won the Super Bowl MVP trophy. The Associated Press