NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis set to retire after the playoffs, has lauded the career and contributions of the future Hall of Famer, calling him "a special guy. Obviously, he's an incredible football player."
Speaking in an extensive interview with The Baltimore Sun, Goodell said he thought Lewis would likely stay in the league in some capacity long after retirement.
"It's very unique to have a player play 17 years in the NFL, and the second thing is to play with one team and to really, truly become the identity of the brand of football that they play," Goodell told The Sun. "It's passionate, emotional, physical.
"That's the kind of game Ray plays, and that's the kind of game the Ravens pattern themselves off of. That's a great thing for the Baltimore community, the Ravens' fans and for the team to have that kind of leadership. That's what it is: It's leadership. That's what he provided to the team, to the NFL and to the Baltimore community."
Lewis, 37, said Wednesday he would retire at season's end, that it was time for him to create a "new legacy."
"There comes a time for everybody," Goodell said. "You're saddened to have someone so special to the game of football leave the field, but I know that he's the kind of guy who will stay involved and who, one way or another, will continue to make a contribution back to the game of football. He's a special guy. Obviously, he's an incredible football player, but he's also made enormous contributions off the field."
Lewis, who hasn't played since tearing his triceps two months ago, intends to return when the Ravens host the Colts in Sunday's wild-card game, having resumed practicing Dec. 5. He is also close to signing a multiyear contract with ESPN to join the network as an NFL analyst, according to an SI.com report.
"I think he's a great example ... how you can play the game in a very physical way but play it fundamentally sound, using the right techniques, techniques that are safe for you and safer for the opponent," Goodell said. "Watching him play, it's just always 110 percent effort on every play. He's giving it his all, he's got incredible passion. He's a fierce competitor and you saw that in the way he played the game. It's something I admire and I love to watch him play."
Goodell said he and Lewis had regularly kept in touch during the commissioner's six-year tenure regarding pressing issues facing the league.
"He's a tremendous voice of reason," Goodell said. "He's someone that has a unique pulse of the players and that's helpful to me. That perspective is important to hear, and he would always share that with me whether he called or I called him. ... He means a great deal to this commissioner, and I could tell you that I will always seek out his input. He will stay involved, I'm certain of it, in football, and that perspective that he has is something I'll reach out for on a regular basis."
Information from ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley and The Associated Press was used in this report.