While Sports Illustrated and NFL.com have been reporting that Ray Lewis may return to the field this season, in Baltimore it is widely accepted that the Ravens' decision to assign Lewis the “designated for return” tag is not an indication that the legendary linebacker has any chance of playing this season.
This is the first year NFL teams have had the opportunity to place a player on the IR with the possibility of bringing the player back later in the season. A player designated for return must remain on the IR for six weeks, after which the team has the option of bringing the player back to the active roster.
The Ravens' decision to designate Lewis for return bars them from using the option for another player this year. National media has taken the move as a sign that Baltimore hopes Lewis can somehow return to game shape for a playoff run. However, the Ravens don't expect to see number 52 lining up with the defense this season.
Lewis suffered a full triceps tear, an injury which requires a minimum four month recovery period. If the Ravens made the Super Bowl, Lewis would still be one week shy of the most optimistic projections. So, if the Ravens are relatively sure Lewis won't be able to play football this season, why risk using the sole “designated for return” option?
The move was made out of respect for Lewis, who may have played his last NFL football. Acknowledging the Baltimore icon's ability to fight his way back from injury onto the roster is a way of keeping his season alive, of telling the man who has been the heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens that the team will not give up on him. And it's not purely altruistic, as ESPN's Adam Scheftner points out.
Schefter postulated that if the team makes the playoffs, “then they're hoping that Ray Lewis can rejoin them if for no other reason than the emotional boost that he will provide with the leadership that he brings to that entire organization.”
Certainly, a Super Bowl run this season would feel wrong without Lewis in uniform. At the same time, it would be virtually unheard of to go into a playoff game (or any game) using a space on the active roster for a player who can't take the field. Either way, though, the Ravens decision to leave the door open for Lewis is a way of keeping him a part of the season, and a sign of respect for the face of the city.
No one knows what next year holds for the future Hall of Famer, but this year, the Ravens are saying: We're not letting you go yet, Ray.