As the Aaron Hernandez situation plays out in New England, former Ravens coach Brian Billick is understandably having flashbacks to 2000, when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis faced murder charges after a fracas outside an Atlanta nightclub.
Billick, writing on NFL.com this week, offers a compelling essay into the chain of events that followed from the team point of view, and specifically how the team mustered its crisis response.
"It became painfully clear that we were going to enter new territory in regard to crisis management," writes Billick, who had just finished his first season as the Ravens coach when Lewis was charged. "There was no one to call, no manual to consult."
Billick refuses to discuss the events in Atlanta -- " I have no intentions of rehashing the details of this case any further or making any kind of justification for Ray's right to continue as a member of the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens," he writes -- but he does spell out how the Ravens responded. (Lewis ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge after the murder charges were dropped.)
Billick makes clear that while the Ravens were concerned with Lewis' welfare and legal situation, they still had an obligation to run their football team.
"Although it sounds quite mercenary, our focus had to turn to the possibility that we might have to go into the ensuing season without our best player," Billick writes. "From an organizational standpoint, it put us in a very difficult position."
If the Ravens decided to pursue a free agent linebacker, Billick explains, observers might have viewed that as a sign the Ravens were "abandoning" Lewis. But if they signed a major free agent and Lewis returned, they would have had a high-priced backup on their hands.
"We decided to keep an eye on the existing linebacker market, but do nothing to actively pursue one until we had a better idea of what might happen," Billick writes.
Billick has made clear in prior interviews that the Ravens had faith in Lewis and were willing to accept the criticism that came with it.
"Our support of Ray Lewis stemmed primarily from our faith in Ray Lewis as a person," Billick told NFL Network on Wednesday. "We did not have access to all the facts. It took months and months for that to unfold, to find out that Ray Lewis really wasn’t culpable in any of those events. We had to go on kind of a leap of faith."
And in that, there is a sharp distinction between the Ravens' response and that of the Patriots, who released Hernandez within hours of him being arrested and before the charges against him were revealed in court.
"This speaks volumes," Billick writes, "about the organization's faith (or lack thereof) in his overall innocence."