It's tough to play 17 years in the NFL. It's even tougher to play all 17 years with one team.
That's why it is noteworthy how Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is leaving the game. An injury didn't force him to call it quits. The Ravens didn't cut him. Lewis went out on his own terms, which is how it should be with everything he has done for the team, the city of Baltimore and the league.
Few thought Lewis would return after tearing his triceps on Oct. 14. But come Sunday, 11 weeks after having surgery on his right arm, Lewis will be coming out of the tunnel to do his final pregame dance at M&T Bank Stadium.
By announcing his retirement Wednesday, Lewis also avoids putting the Ravens in a rough spot this offseason. The Ravens are going to need salary-cap room, especially if they are going to put the franchise tag on quarterback Joe Flacco, and they may have been forced to part ways with Lewis, who was scheduled to make $5.4 million in 2013.
Now, the end of Lewis' career won't be marred by the ugly side of the business. He came into the NFL as a Raven and will leave as one. That's how it should be.
"I’ve played the game at a very, very high level and a very rough pace," Lewis said. "But for me to be where I am standing as a man now and to make my own declaration and say it’s time for me to go on, then I make this last run with my team. I give them everything I’ve got. That’s one thing I shared with them in that meeting: ‘I am going to give you everything that I’ve got, because this is our last one.’ And wherever it ends, it ends. But I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.”