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Ravens bracing for possibility of life without Lewis and Reed

Ravens stalwarts and expected future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have spent their entire careers in Baltimore, anchoring what has long been a dominant defense, but their time with the team could be ending. “It could end up being a lot sooner than later,” as one team source put it.

Lewis remains on the IR/Designated to Return list recovering from a torn triceps, and should the Ravens lock up the AFC North title Sunday, team sources said it is highly unlikely the team would active him until the postseason. Lewis, who has been out-performed by Dannell Ellerbe this season (Ellerbe's recent injury issues have been viewed by some in the organization as more debilitating than the loss of Lewis for much of the season), is set to make $5.4 million next season. While Lewis has told friends he intends to play in 2013, when he will turn 38, some in the Ravens organization don't think its viable to pay him that kind of salary, and wonder if Lewis would be able to come to grips with not being a guaranteed starter or full-time player after so many years as the face of the franchise. Lewis may have to agree to a restructured deal to remain in Baltimore.

Reed, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent at season's end. The 34-year-old safety and the Ravens have not had any discussions about a new deal this season, and really no significant talks about a contract since before the 2011 season began, sources said. Given the age of Baltimore's defense in key spots and some pending salary cap issues (like quarterback Joe Flacco likely counting $14.6 million against a stagnant cap as a franchise player), finding a salary spot agreeable to Reed is far from certain, and teammates have said privately they believe Reed will be elsewhere next season. A long-term deal for Flacco could free up the franchise tag to be used on Reed, but sources said Reed would not take kindly to being franchised at this stage of his career, prompting another offseason stare-down between him and the front office.

The 13-time Pro Bowler Reed is third among active NFL players in games started (227), behind only Tony Gonzalez and Ronde Barber.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, Reed is the NFL's all-time leader in interception return yards (1,541), and with 61 career picks is within reasonable striking distance of the NFL's interceptions record of 81, held by Hall of Famer Paul Krause.

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