Jamal Lewis should have retired as one of the best running backs in NFL history.
An elite running back for the Baltimore Ravens in the early 2000s, Lewis was on pace to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then came legal issues, including a plea deal that landed Lewis in prison for his role in a drug ring.
Those legal issues may have contributed to Lewis’ slow but drastic fall from an elite running back to someone who retired at age 30. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Jamal Lewis was the Ravens’ star running back
A physical specimen at 5 feet 11 inches and 245 pounds, Jamal Lewis used that size to his advantage in an excellent NFL career.
The fifth overall pick in 2000, Lewis ran for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie on a Ravens team that won the Super Bowl.
After he missed the 2001 season with a knee injury, Lewis returned to pick up 1,327 yards and six rushing touchdowns in 2002.
Then came the historic 2003 season, when Lewis earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors by running for a league-high 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns.
That included a then-NFL record 295 rushing yards in one game, which Adrian Peterson broke four years later.
Lewis served priosn time for his role in a drug ring
Jamal Lewis found himself in a difficult situation midway through his time with the Baltimore Ravens.
According to ESPN, Lewis served four months at a Florida prison in early-2005 after he pleaded guilty to “using a cell phone to try to set up a drug deal.”
Lewis, who pleaded guilty midway through the Ravens’ 2004 season, was accused of helping a childhood friend try setting up a deal to buy cocaine in 2000. The two spoke with an undercover FBI informant over the phone and met the agent at an Atlanta restaurant.
Both conversations were taped, leading to Lewis’ later legal issues. The terms of Lewis’ plea agreement meant the drug conspiracy and attempted cocaine possession charges were dropped.
If a jury convicted Lewis of the conspiracy charges, he could have faced at least 10 years in prison.
Lewis struggled to finish the 2004 season strong after he reached the plea agreement. After serving a two-game suspension, Lewis averaged only 3.94 yards per carry in his final seven games and scored just three rushing touchdowns.
Jamal Lewis’s career wasn’t the same after he served prison time
With his prison time out of the way, Jamal Lewis hoped to restart his career in 2005.
That isn’t quite how things went. Lewis averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2005 and finished the year with 906 rushing yards, also a career-low.
Lewis bounced back in 2006 and totaled 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers which earned him a one-year deal with the rival Browns.
The former Pro Bowler looked like his old self again in 2007, rushing for 1,304 yards — his most since 2003 — and scoring 11 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Unfortunately for Lewis, his yards per carry dipped back down to 3.6 in 2008, and he barely reached 1,000 yards on the year. A concussion ended Lewis’ 2009 season early, and he retired when the year ended.
Lewis also reportedly feuded with Browns teammates during the 2009 season. At one point, Lewis even told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that the Browns’ losing ways took a mental toll on him and inspired him to retire early.
The numbers show that Jamal Lewis wasn’t the same after his legal issues. Much like former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, though, Lewis’ struggles could have been related to concussions and overuse.
Whatever the case, Lewis had a terrific career and was on pace for the Hall of Fame at one point. Lewis may still eventually make it into Canton, but one has to wonder what would have happened if the star running back hadn’t had those legal problems.