Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Jan 2013

Ray Lewis to Retire Following Playoffs

This seemed like a good possibility after his triceps injury earlier this season, but today Ray Lewis made it official: He will retire after the playoffs, no matter how far the Baltimore Ravens make it. Some players may have been a little better at their peak, but for sustained greatness over a long period, it's hard to argue against the idea that Lewis is the greatest linebacker in NFL history. He's been considered "overrated" for so long that he's actually been underrated for quite some time.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Jan 2013

49 comments, Last at 05 Jan 2013, 3:38pm by cisforcookie


by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:26pm

He was good. Goodnplayer. Was MVP SB 35. Will ebe first ballot hall fo famer. Could argue was best inside lijebacker all time. Others to consider J. Schmidt, d. Butkus, willie lanier.

by Dean :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:14pm

Best Inside LB of all time? Hard to say. Best since I started watching (going on 35 years ago)? Yes.

We will be telling our grandchildren we were privlidged enough to see Ray Lewis play.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:29pm

Used to keep extra record s and notes in Yahoo mail notepad but Yahoo new mail system now and have no ides what happened to the notepad. A shame

In there had list of ravebz record year by her when Lewis play and when not play. Not tsurprisring tema better record with him than without.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 8:55pm

RJ, try this URL: notepad.mail.yahoo.com

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 9:38pm

Thank you, lind sir. That worked

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 9:43pm

Ravens with Ray lwies actice: 127-100-1

Ravens with Ray Lewis inactive: 23-21

Not a s stark as Ramms with/without Roman Gabriel or jets woth/without Joe Namath but still pretty good. Kond of shows in simple kindergarteb level form that R. lewis impritant to tema

by Scizzy (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:33pm

I wonder if he'll want to get into coaching. Given the respect he commands and his obvious intelligence on the field, he would certainly make a hell of a LB coach. And, despite the counterexample of Mike Singletary, maybe a lot more than that.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:58pm

My theory is that the true greats, the naturals like Jordan and Gretzky, are so gifted that they don't make great coaches as they can't convey what they need to to 95% of their charges. People who worked like dogs (not that the naturals didn't work) to make the squad, to improve themselves, to finally master their craft, tend to make better coaches because they better understand the process of improvement, the steps it takes to grow, work with teammates, adapt. The geniuses were so gifted so early and so long that wherever they went (peewee, HS, coll, pros), the coaches and teams adapted to THEM, designed their schemes around their best player, etc.

Another view: I forget who recently said (Dungy maybe) that Peyton Manning would make a terrible coach because his demands and expectations would be crushing if his pupil was not a Manning clone. He'd be frustrated, the guys he's coaching would cry, cats and dogs living together... nobody would be happy.

I am sure there are exceptions--Dan Gable being one in collegiate/olympic wrestling, but wrestliers are a different breed.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:02pm

Manning already runs a well-regarded QB school. Seems like he could make it work. Most of what he excels at is the cerebral side of the game. He's never had the world's best physical tools outside of height.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:17pm

True on the summer QB academy, but that's a different context than leading a team through a season. He probably maps out the dozen things he wants to show them, drills them, and they go home after a few days. There's no real consequence (from Manning) if the kids throw four picks in game six of their next season, or never master the skill of identifying a safety blitz.

The mental aspect of Manning AND Lewis, both of whom are renowned film studiers and workaholics, is probably a transferrable skill. And both command great respect. But whoever said it about Manning knew him (his dad? Polian? I hate that I can't recall it).

And regarding physical tools, keep in mind that you are comparing him to maybe 30-50 other individuals on the planet. Up until maybe his second year at college he probably never even saw anybody his age who could do what he could, physically, and at his prime, there aren't many who could. No he could never throw 60 yards from his knees, but he is and always has been an elite, elite athlete. (That goes for most of these guys, even the 350 lb DTs who can out-vertical leap most of us and out-sprint us for 20 yards. Well, make that ten.)

When I was a HS wrestler and later a part-time coach, it was amazing how the gifted kids generally did not and could not analyze why and where a foot or leg or arm had to be placed in order for a move to work right--they just knew intuitively. There was no alternative and therefore they could never really teach kids who didn't get it instinctively. They could demonstrate something a hundred times, but never attached "learning hooks" to it so the non-gifted could pick it up except by much frustrating trial and error. You could ask "why do you do it that way?" and the answer would be either "I don;t know" or "it works."

by Johnny Socko (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:50pm

I'll go on record predicting Peyton Manning will pursue coaching shortly after retiring. I came to this conclusion after observing him on the sidelines while he was injured last year. I attended every home Colts game and spent most of my time fascinated by watching Peyton. To begin with, he was extremely focused on the game, which is unusual for most injured players. Most of the injured guys just wonder the sidelines aimlessly, chewing tobacco and looking into the stands. Not Peyton. He was living and dying with each play. He watched most of the plays hunched over, hands on knees, as if he were getting ready for the snap. It was intense.

Secondly, he was very active in conversations with the OC while the Colts were on on offense. He would yell out defensive formations as the playclock wound down, and was actively involved in discussions with the OC and QB during timeouts. He also had animated discussions with the entire offense several times during the game.

On the surface, none of this is that enlightening. However, it was Peyton's intensity during the game that was shocking. It was clear he cared just as much about the game even though the Colts were 1-13 and he had no chance of playing.
I came away thinking football, and the competitive juices that it creates, are simply in Peyton's blood. Neither the broadcast booth, nor commercials, will satisfy this need for competition.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 8:54pm

I think P Manning is destined for NFL talking head/color commentator. There's enough competition to make it to the #1 team that would satisfy his need to be the best.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:22pm

Hosting ("running" is probably a stretch) a week-long camp for 9th-graders is not exactly analogous to being an NFL coach. If Peyton Manning were put in charge of developing someone like Mark Sanchez, I'd bet the situation would resemble Michael Jordan's tutelage of Kwame Brown.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:31pm

I can't imagine it would.

Even Mike Singletary wasn't the raging sociopath Jordan was.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:00pm

"He's never had the world's best physical tools outside of height."

Lol? Whut?

At his peak, he had one of the best arms in the game, and was arguably the most accurate passer in the game.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 6:38pm

Accuracy isn't a physical tool.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 12:26am

Well maybe call it "hand/eye coordination" then... I definitely would call it a physical tool. Hmm... off the top of my head trying to list things that are physical tools for QBs in my book :

Overall strength
Arm strength
Release/throwing motion speed
Hand/eye coordination and mechanics
Foot speed, running and lateral
Peripheral vision/motion awareness
Overall body control (for throwing on the run, juking defenders, etc.)

I guess if you want to talk about the things that are more genetic and less learnable (or changeable), it would probably be just height, maybe some amount of mechanics. And anything that comes naturally even if it is learnable could be included (naturally strong arm, for instance); But those things would vary by QB.

by apbadogs :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 12:14pm

I think Peyton Manning compared to the average FO comment board poster would be considered freakishly gifted, in all regards (speed, strength, etc).

by dbostedo :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 4:35pm

True no doubt... but I'm not sure what this is in reference to?

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 10:50am

Accuracy is most certainly a physical tool, albeit one that can be increased by a greater percentage through practice than, say, straight line speed.

by JimZipCode :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 2:40am

>>He [Manning]'s never had the world's
>>best physical tools outside of height.

And the laser, rocket arm.

by RickD :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:34pm

It's pretty easy to argue that Ray Lewis isn't the greatest linebacker in NFL history:

Lawrence Taylor.

Greatest interior linebacker? Probably.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:00pm

In his defense, PFR does consider Lewis the greatest LB ever.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:59pm

Best LB ever? When did Junior Seau die? (oh yeah...)

More seriously, you could make a straight-faced argument that he's only the 5th best LB in Bears history. (George, Butkus, Urlacher, Singletary)

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:11pm

Urlacher's career feels pretty underrated these days, but it's no match for Ray Lewis's. And I personally feel Singletary was a bit overrated.

Bill George is hard to rate, but I'd be OK with calling him better than Lewis, on the basis of a pioneer bonus.

I think they go.

1. Butkus
2/3. Lewis, George
4. Urlacher
5. Singletary

And that's not accounting for MLBs that played on other teams.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:27pm

I think Lewis is better than Urlacher, but I think they have had remarkably similar careers. Lewis gets a career longevity bonus, but they are nearly clones on the career arc and career discussion realms.

In all seriousness, Seau's career looks a lot like Lewis's, too.

PFR would have ranked them thusly:
1. Lewis
2. Singletary/George
4. Urlacher
4a. large gap
5. Butkus

Butkus had a short career and played on bad defenses. PFR has Singletary/George/Lewis as nearly a dead heat, with only Buonicoti, Schmidt, and Lambert in hailing distance.

by Dean :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:18pm

I watched Mike Singletary's entire career. That dude was a beast. I can't fathom anyone who was around back then thinking he was overrated. Yeah, he was no great shakes as a coach, but that wasn't exactly a surprise, and it certainly doesn't change just how enormous his impact was on the game. That defense, and Singletary personally, intimidated opponents so severely that the Bears frequently had already won the game before it even started. Opponents were scared to play them. Singletary is one of the few who lives up to the hype.

Yet having said all that, who would I rather have as my MLB? I'm taking Ray Lewis. He's that good.

by JimZipCode :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 3:18am

Lewis and Urlacher may be clones in terms of the shape, but Lewis' curve is transposed up a little on the graph, from Urlacher's curve. I mean, Lewis is not better only because of longevity. He's also better in peak value.

As a Ravens fan, I always thought of Urlacher as a poor man's Ray Lewis. With more perspective now, I'd modify that to "an upper middle-class man's Ray", or even "a fairly well-off man's" Ray.

The thing about comparing defenders to Ray Lewis, which I didn't fully grasp 5 or 6 years ago, is that a player could be a noticeable step down from Ray Lewis – and still be a Hall of Famer. That might even be a functional definition of a defensive Hall of Famer: almost as good as Ray Lewis.

Maybe at 60% of Ray Lewis you're out of the Hall; and 80% you're clearly in; and 60-80% is the grey area. Or something like that.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:03pm

Oh, and good timing Ray. You had a whole season to come up with this. Let's see, the Colts are emotionally high to win for Pagano, and pretty much everyone on earth finds their story inspiring (ragtag team of scruffy nerf-herders take on the evil empire in Yoda's name, or something like that) so the hometown fans and teammates get this little jolt of manufactured emotion from Lewis to carry them through the first game.

If they win, then Ed Reed will make some pronouncement (shave his beard if they win?) to motivate everyone, and to inspire them if they get to the AFCCG, Joe Flacco will promise to retire if they win that one.

by RickD :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:10pm

Give the man credit. He's always been a master motivator.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:19pm

And nobody ever said he was stupid. (at least to his face)

by Joe T. :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 7:34pm

Nobody alive today to tell us anyway. ;-)

by Gus (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:16pm

I, for one, welcome Joe Flacco's retirement.

by Never Surrender :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:19pm

It's not right to say that Lewis has "been considered 'overrated' for so long that he's actually been underrated for quite some time."

As far as I could tell, Lewis's reputation for being overrated came from around 2007-2011, when he was widely considered to be the league's best LB by mainstream analysts. He was still good in that time, but simply not among the league's very best, so sticklers like those who haunt FO wouldn't hesitate to call him "overrated."

Nevertheless, pointing out that fact doesn't at all imply that people thought his overall career was overrated, just that, in those particular seasons, NFL Network talking heads, gameday color commentators, and writers like Peter King were mindlessly attributing to him more credit than was warranted.

Besides, it seems to me that the "overrated" lashback has died out in the last year or two anyway as mainstreamers caught up to the reality. Does anyone actually dispute that Lewis is one of the game's greatest ILBs to play? I think there's nothing to see here.

by RickD :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:28pm

Also, Lewis was underrated for several years by the media who hung the "thug" label on him and didn't want to respect his abilities. I don't remember when he went from thug to loveable motivator - probably between 2005-2007.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 6:18pm

Giuy was lovable motivator consideed by some before 2005 deginitely. Was more like 2002-03 when ot start . Tppk one year to shed murdering thug lable.
Remember 2004 Ravens at Eagles game T. Owens did R. lewis jerk dance in end zone afterr score TF.so you know Lewis rain dance popular with kids and media already by 2004

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:18pm

"As far as I could tell, Lewis's reputation for being overrated came from around 2007-2011, when he was widely considered to be the league's best LB by mainstream analysts. He was still good in that time, but simply not among the league's very best, so sticklers like those who haunt FO wouldn't hesitate to call him "overrated.""

See, you're proving his point though. Ray Lewis WAS among the league's very best over that entire time. He just wasn't head and shoulders above everyone else like at his peak.

by Never Surrender :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 9:41pm

No, I don't think he was among the very best. He hovered around (in and beyond) the top 10 or so LBs, depending on the year, which shouldn't even guarantee a Pro Bowl / All Pro roster spot. And even in some of his peak years he wasn't necessarily the best in the game.

by James-London :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:46pm

Lewis and possibly Gonzalez. We might be seeing the end of two of the best to ever play in one go.
Have 2 players both candidates to be the best ever at their positions retired in the se year before?

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:17pm

Jerry Rice and Emmett Smith both retired in 2004.
Rod Woodson and Bruce Smith both retired in 2003.
Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott both retired in 1994.
Jim Brown and Joe Schmidt both retired in 1965.

It happens.

by Dean :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:21pm

Well, if we're inducting 5 players a year into the Hall of Fame, then we should have 5 of the best ever retiring every year. If not, then we're inducting too many people.

by RickD :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:30pm

The Hall also includes "best among contemporaries" and not just "best ever".

by JimZipCode :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 3:01am

It's hard to remember, now that we've lived thru the last ~5 years of Ray Lewis, the player that Ray-ray was circa 2000-2001. What we've seen recently is the master motivator and the intense film studier, with fantastic anticipation but only so-so speed, strong but not devastatingly powerful. That game-saving tackle in the 4th Q in San Diego a few years ago probably defines the upside of Ray Lewis for us; his ability to read a play and commit to it, and his sure tackling. His downside is defined in numerous recent highlights of him not-quite-getting to the runner, or not quite getting deep enough in coverage.

But ten or twelve years ago! The highlights of him from then are breathtaking. The same otherwordly anticipation, but he was also fast. He was everywhere. A little bigger then, I think; he hit with shocking power. The Ravens Super Bowl run is available as a DVD set on Amazon; it's worth watching sometime, just to watch a young Ray-ray run around and destroy people. He has the glorious arrogance of a young lion, or King Kong, or something. Lord of the jungle. It's tough to take your eyes off him. (Fast forward thru the sections where the Ravens are on offense.)

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 10:59am

Now, now, we o-line fans would like to see Jonathon Ogden knock the hell out of humans as well.

by slipknottin :: Fri, 01/04/2013 - 3:07am

There was a ravens colts playoff game awhile ago. Perhaps around 2007 that ray was incredible as well. He and Ed Reed seemed like they were the only receivers Peyton was throwing too. I believe reed picked off a couple passes and Lewis and Reed collided on a couple other potential interceptions. Don't believe either team scored a Td that day.

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 01/04/2013 - 4:19pm

Story of the Ravens life under Billick: hold Peyton Manning without a TD, still lose because your own team can't score either.

by Subrata Sircar :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 5:27am

I have watched Singletary, Lewis, Lambert and Urlacher play. Despite being a Steelers fan I would order them Lewis, Singletary, Lambert and Urlacher (and wouldn't object loudly to those who had Urlacher 3rd; it's a very different game these days than Lambert's).

Those are four all-time great MLBs, but Lewis' decline from football's Mount Olympus has been remarkably gentle, allowing him to sustain a remarkable level of play for an unbelievably long time.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 11:02am

It's interesting to think of Lambert playing solely in a passer friendly era; it is entirely possible it may have suited him better.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Sat, 01/05/2013 - 3:38pm

I've only been watching football since the ravens came back to baltimore, and I live on the east coast so I just don't get to watch patrick willis or brian urlacher or demarcus ware as much as I might like, so I have what is a limited perspective. That being said, ray lewis was the most dominant defensive player i've ever seen.

There's a lot of guys who fall into the category of sustained excellence. Excellent just doesn't begin to describe ray lewis between 1996 (he led the nfl in tackles for loss as a rookie) and 2001 (a shoulder injury in 2002 clearly affected his power). He was an unstoppable force of nature who clearly terrified opponents. That several serious injuries reduced him from otherworldly to merely excellent for another half a decade is just amazing. That he hasn't been particularly dominant in a while (he is 37) is similar to complaining that jerry rice's 2nd decade in the nfl wasn't all that impressive compared to his first.