At last, Marcedes Lewis can sleep.
Lewis, the Jaguars' Pro Bowl tight end, signed a five-year contract extension Friday morning that took away the NFL's franchise tag, and for him and the Jaguars had the benefit of allowing him to begin practicing for the first time during 2011 training camp.
Lewis hopes it has the benefit of putting his mind at ease.
"The hardest part was just not being able to sleep, not having any clarity, not knowing what was going to go on," Lewis said Friday shortly after the first of two Jaguars 2011 Training camp practices.
"Now, I can go back to getting out and playing."
Lewis, who last season made the Pro Bowl for the first time, shortly before the off-season lockout began signed a tender offer that made him the team's franchise player.
Lewis held out the first four days of camp, and reported Monday after speaking with Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio and determining that while he would report, he would not practice. As a result, he spent this past week attending meetings, but watching practice.
The no-practice agreement with Del Rio got Lewis to Jacksonville, and it got him around his teammates, but Lewis said it did little to ease his frustration.
"I felt like Quasimodo for a long time," Lewis said. "Now, I can take this boulder off my back, work my way in and continue to get in football shape and pick up where things left off last year."
Lewis, who has caught 181 passes for 2,224 yards and 17 touchdowns in five NFL seasons, already was considered one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends, and last season, he had the best statistical season of his career with 58 receptions for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"If I sat here and told you I didn't think I was the best all-around tight end in the league, I'd be lying to you," Lewis said. "But that's not for me to say. That's for you to judge. I give nothing less than my best. That's what I've been doing the whole time.
"A lot of people feel like I did well last year, but I'm just touching the surface."
He spent the off-season focused on MMA workouts and training, said while he is in the best shape of his career, the coming days and weeks will be critical toward working into playing shape.
Lewis declined to discuss specific contract numbers, but said, "I'm happy."
"I thank them (the Jaguars) for giving me the opportunity to come here, and to do what I love to do," Lewis said. "They blessed me and in return, I'm going to return the favor. I couldn't ask for anything more. Both sides were able to come to an agreement where everybody was happy."
Lewis said his first call after signing the contract was to his mother, Yvonne.
"She cried a little bit," he said. "She was like, 'You worked for it. No one else sees you when you're away from the stadium, but us. We know how hard you worked for it. You're just getting started.'''
Lewis said a turning point in his career came during the 2010 off-season, when Del Rio talked to him about staying in Jacksonville for off-season workouts. Lewis did, and responded with the best season of his career.
"I kind of took the bull by the horns and understood that this is my job, that this is important to me," he said. "If I wanted to turn that corner to becoming elite, I had to make the necessary sacrifices to do that. Staying here and working out and making the necessary sacrifices for my teammates was one of those. I'm excited to continue it."
Lewis, the Jaguars' first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, said had he not stayed that off-season, his chances to have signed the contract he signed Friday would have been "slim and none." He also said he was thankful for several former teammates who "showed us how to win, and showed us how to work – i.e., (former Jaguars running back) Fred Taylor."
"We're starting something big right now," he said. "They (the Jaguars) have been doing a great job of getting good guys in here – good, talented guys with great character – who all believe in the same thing. I'm excited that I'm on board.
"I'm glad everybody was patient. It's a stressful process. During the whole time, you want it to go faster, but thank God for my family, thank God for this organization believing in me. I'm just excited that I'll be here."