Lewis trial scheduled to begin Nov. 1

Updated: October 1, 2004, 6:38 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Discussions are ongoing about a plea agreement that would allow Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis to avoid a trial on drug conspiracy charges and serve only a modest prison term, federal authorities confirmed Friday.

The story was initially reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in its Friday editions, with the newspaper citing lawyers familiar with the Lewis case.

Sources from two federal agencies involved in the case told ESPN.com that negotiations between federal prosecutors and attorneys Ed Garland and Don Samuel, who represent Lewis, have been going on for a few weeks. But one federal law enforcement agent added that a resolution, which would have to be approved by U.S. district judge Orinda Evans, is not imminent.

"He might have crossed the 50[-yard line]," said one source, referring to Lewis, "but he [isn't] near the end zone yet, I don't think."

A key element to the plea negotiations, sources said, is not only how much time Lewis might spend in prison but when it would be served. Obviously, Lewis would prefer to serve any prison time during the offseason.

Lewis, an Atlanta native who played at Douglass High School, is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and using a cell phone to plan a drug transaction. The charges are the result of an FBI investigation in the summer of 2000. If convicted, Lewis could face a sentence of at least 10 years, however, under the plea agreement he might serve less than a year.

According to one source, as part of any deal Lewis would "almost beyond doubt" have to provide the prosecution with testimony against his friend Angelo Jackson, who is facing similar charges. Tomeka Richard, working with the FBI posing as a drug dealer, allegedly contacted the Ravens tailback in June of 2000. Prosecutors say Lewis introduced Richard to Jackson, who allegedly met later that summer with Richard to plan a drug deal.

Richard is a key witness; if the case proceeds to trial it is generally agreed the defense will vigorously try to impeach her credibility. Even while cooperating with the FBI, court and arrest records indicate, Richard continued to commit other crimes, most of them related to fraud.

Federal prosecutors are prepared to go to trial on Nov. 1 if an agreement cannot be reached. Lewis' attorneys did not immediately return phone messages.

Even if Lewis pleads to a reduced charge, he still could face sanctions from the NFL, sources agreed. Under terms of the NFL's personal conduct policy, a player is subject to review even if he enters "a plea to a lesser ... offense." Punitive action from the NFL would be at the discretion of the commissioner and can range from a fine, to suspension, to banishment from the league.

Lewis, 25, was a first-round choice of the Ravens in the 2000 draft. The offenses he is charged with allegedly occurred after the draft but before Lewis, who played collegiately at Tennessee, signed his first NFL contract.

Except for 2001, when he missed the entire NFL season because of a knee injury suffered in training camp, Lewis has led the Ravens in rushing every year he's been in the league. In '03, he became only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.