Lewis keeps Ravens in contention

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The re-signing of middle linebacker Ray Lewis provided a much-needed sigh of relief for Baltimore Ravens fans. For the most part, the past week has been gut wrenching as Baltimore lost much of its talent to other teams.

In many ways, the Ravens saved face Wednesday in free agency by retaining Lewis. The signing also puts Baltimore, which was one game away from the Super Bowl, back in the title hunt.

Allowing their emotional leader and 10-time Pro Bowler to leave for another team would have capped a disastrous first-week of free agency that included the loss of starting linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard and center Jason Brown. The Ravens also released former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, and former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan took a head coaching job with the New York Jets.

By keeping Lewis, along with the solid, but not sexy, signings of veteran center Matt Birk and speedy cornerback Domonique Foxworth, suddenly Baltimore's run in free agency doesn't look so bad.

Baltimore's defense will continue to be tenacious under Lewis and stalwarts Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. If Baltimore continues its trend of drafting well and quarterback Joe Flacco continues to improve, the Ravens will once again have high expectations in 2009. They will join teams such as the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers as early favorites in the AFC.

A few questions still remain for the Ravens.

Can Baltimore find a speedy receiver to complement Flacco's strong arm? Who will be the linebacker to replace Scott? What about depth at tight end?

Yet none of these issues are nearly as detrimental as trying to find another player to take the spot of Lewis. He would have been hard to replace on the field and in the locker room, making the three-year deal with Baltimore a smart move.

For the first time in a long time, people in Baltimore were doubting general manager Ozzie Newsome. With his recent moves Newsome is proving why he is well respected around the league as one of the best GMs in the NFL.