Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced on Wednesday that he'd be retiring after this season, is apparently close to joining ESPN as an NFL analyst, reports Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. Lewis is expected to be a key part of ESPN's Monday Night Countdown coverage, along with the half dozen or so other analysts that ESPN employs on Monday nights.
ESPN seemed like the best fit for Lewis, who was looking for a flexible schedule that would allow him to attend his son's games at the University of Miami in the fall. Lewis and his representatives apparently met with various networks throughout the season, perhaps indicating that retirement was on his mind well before he announced it.
Because of how many analysts ESPN employs, it'll be interesting to see how Lewis fits in. He has such a huge personality that throwing him next to guys like Tedy Bruschi, Eric Mangini, or Damien Woody won't allow Lewis to shine. Bringing in someone like Lewis is a coup for ESPN, and the network needs to give him a platform instead of just shuffling him in and out like they do with their endless parade of other analysts. ESPN can't do with Lewis what they've done with Jerry Rice, for instance, whose presence on the network is largely anonymous. For example, on Monday Night Countdown, is it really necessary to have both Steve Young and Trent Dilfer on site with Stuart Scott? Is it necessary to have both Cris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson in studio with Chris Berman and the rest of the crew?
I think Lewis' actual role with ESPN for the 2013 NFL season is still to be determined based on what happens with Jon Gruden and the neverending coaching rumors surrounding him. If Gruden takes a coaching job this winter, the prevailing thought is that Dilfer will slide into the commentary booth along with Mike Tirico, opening up a spot on the on-site Countdown set for Lewis. If Gruden doesn't take a job though, ESPN will need to get creative in attempting to make the most out of their newest commodity. Pairing Lewis with Ron Jaworski breaking down offensive and defensive situations could make for great television.
Whatever ends up happening with Lewis and his new role at ESPN, Bristol cannot just let him turn into another member of the endless parade of analysts. Regardless of how you feel about Lewis personally, he has an extremely strong personality, an unmatched passion for football, and has provided numerous thoughtful quotes over his time in the game. If your team signs a superstar free agent, you have to get the most out of all of his abilities. ESPN's hoping they can do just that with Ray Lewis.