Lewis also faces league suspension

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis will appear in federal court in Atlanta at 4 p.m. Thursday and plead guilty as part of a plea bargain, sources close to Lewis told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

Lewis will admit his guilt in introducing a federal informant to Lewis' friend, Angelo Jackson, for the purpose of a cocaine deal between Jackson and the informant in June of 2000, the sources said. The plea will be entered before a federal magistrate, who will then decide whether to approve the agreement.

Lewis reached a tentative plea bargain that will allow him to avoid both a jury trial next month and a potentially career-ending prison sentence, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reported last week.

The Ravens are expecting that after Lewis' guilty plea Thursday, he almost immediately will receive some kind of disciplinary action from the league, sources told Paolantonio.

Lewis has violated the league substance-abuse policy at least twice and was suspended without pay for four games in 2001, a season he missed anyway because of a knee injury suffered in training camp. He also could come under the purview of the NFL personal conduct policy.

Under terms of the that policy, a player is subject to review even if he enters "a plea to a lesser ... offense." Punitive action from the NFL is at the discretion of the commissioner and can range from a fine, to suspension, to banishment from the league.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that sources have told him the NFL is expected to act promptly once the plea deal is sealed and Lewis faces a 2-4 game suspension, pending appeals.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press on Saturday that possible punishment would be based on the player's history and the facts of the case but declined to comment on what sanctions Lewis specifically could face.

An Atlanta native, Lewis is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and using a cell phone to plan a drug transaction. The charges are the result of an FBI investigation in the summer of 2000. If convicted, Lewis would have faced a sentence of at least 10 years, which essentially would have ended his NFL career.

The Sun reported the plea agreement in its Saturday editions. The original story concerning negotiations to keep Lewis out of court was published Friday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Federal authorities confirmed Friday for ESPN.com that talks between prosecutors and Lewis' attorneys had been ongoing for a few weeks.

One source said a resolution was not imminent, but clearly the discussions were on a faster track than he indicated. Other sources said Lewis likely will serve two to six months in prison, a halfway house or a combination of both.

"There would be no jail time that would interfere with his
career," a source close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP.

A key element to negotiations, sources said, was not only how much time Lewis might spend in prison but also when it would be served. It is likely, since he has signed off on the plea bargain, his sentence would be served during the NFL offseason.

Because the paperwork will not be filed until this week, when Judge Evans convenes a public hearing, the charges to which Lewis agreed are not yet certain. As presiding judge in the case, Evans must approve the plea agreement but is expected to do so.

In February, Lewis pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on $500,000 bond. His attorneys, the high-profile Atlanta tandem of Don Samuel and Ed Garland, staunchly reiterated their client's innocence. But the specter of a jury trial, scheduled for Nov. 1, and all the possibilities inherent in such a proceeding became the catalyst for the plea agreement. It is not known who initiated the negotiations.

One source said that, as part of any deal, Lewis would "almost beyond doubt" have to provide the prosecution with testimony against his friend Jackson, who is facing similar charges. It is alleged that Lewis introduced Tomeka Richard to Jackson, a longtime buddy from his neighborhood. Richard was working with the FBI and posing as a drug dealer in a sting operation when she contacted the Ravens tailback in June 2000. Later that summer, Jackson allegedly met with Richard to plan a drug deal.

Richard is a key witness but, if the case proceeds to trial, it is generally agreed the defense would vigorously attempt to impeach her credibility. Even while cooperating with the FBI, court and arrest records indicate, Richard continued to commit other crimes, most of them related to fraud.

Lewis might not be formally sentenced until Jackson's case is resolved.

Lewis, 25, was a first-round draft choice of the Ravens in 2000. The alleged drug crimes occurred after the draft but before Lewis, who played at Tennessee, signed his first NFL contract.

Except for 2001, Lewis has led the Ravens in rushing every year he's been in the league. In '03, he became only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press was used in this report.