INDIANAPOLIS — Jamal Lewis’ 1,304 rushing yards in 2007 showed he wasn’t washed up at 28 years old.
After agreeing to a three-year deal with the Browns on Thursday, Lewis has something new to prove — that he is still motivated.
From the day the Browns signed Lewis last March, general manager Phil Savage repeatedly said “a hungry Jamal is a good Jamal.” Lewis was on the first one-year deal of his career, guaranteed only $3.5 million and using the chance with the Browns to show Baltimore, which released him, and the rest of the NFL that he had gas left in the tank.
He reported to training camp in great shape, finished fifth in the league in rushing and tied for seventh with nine rushing touchdowns, despite missing all but one play of two games with a foot injury. He earned $1.5 million in incentives to bump his 2007 salary to $5 million.
“I am thankful to the Browns for the opportunity they gave me last year to come out and prove that I was still one of the top running backs in the NFL,” Lewis said in a statement released by the team. “I feel the future is extremely bright for this team and I’m excited to be a part of it for another three years.
“I said all year long that I wanted to get a long-term deal done to stay in Cleveland and it looks like with this new contract I will be able to finish my career as a Brown.”
Lewis (5-foot-11, 245 pounds) will be 29 in August — considered old for a running back — so the Browns preferred a two-year deal, but Lewis wanted at least three. While contract details weren’t released, the deal will likely pay in the range of $8 million guaranteed with at least $5 million a season.
Lewis was making the trip to the scouting combine in Indianapolis to sign the deal and will appear at a news conference today with general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel.
Re-signing Lewis before he became an unrestricted free agent Feb. 29 was a top priority of the Browns (along with restricted free-agent quarterback Derek Anderson). Although the market for Lewis was uncertain, his value to the Browns was definite.
Not only did he have the best year by a Cleveland running back since Jim Brown in 1965 — Brown’s the only other Cleveland Brown to rush for 1,300 yards — the team doesn’t have a replacement. Backups Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison offer a change of pace and help on third down, but neither has the experience or talent to become the workhorse back.
Lewis averaged 4.4 yards a carry — after averaging 3.4 and 3.6 in his final two years in Baltimore — and added 30 catches for 248 yards and two receiving touchdowns. The 1,304 rushing yards were seventh best in team history, and his 298 carries ranked third. He had five 100-yard games and became the 26th NFL back to rush for 9,000 yards.
“He brings a maturity, toughness and football temperament to the team that is critical to our success on top of the physical abilities that he possesses,” Savage said.
Lewis, who spent seven years in Baltimore, led a Browns rushing attack that ranked 10th in the NFL at 118.4 yards a game, the team’s best rating since 1985.
“What’s so special about Jamal is he’s a leader,” receiver Joe Jurevicius said after the season. “He’s kind of a quiet warrior, but he’s a leader out there. Guys respond to him.”
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