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Will the 2012 season be Ray Lewis’ last?

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(Credits: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

He’s 37 and is set to enter his 17th season in the NFL.

But will this be Ray Lewis’ last?

Lewis, who turned 37 in May, was emphatic after the Ravens’ AFC Championship Game loss that he was returning for 2012, but there has to be speculation and questions about whether he will play beyond this year.

After all, in April 2011, Lewis hinted at a target date for his retirement when he told the NFL Network, “I can’t see myself playing football past 37.”

Eventually, Lewis is going to have to walk away from football as a player. More recently, there haven’t been any signs that he will be calling it quits anytime soon. He is under contract through 2015, and the Ravens showed their belief in Lewis when they once again balked at selecting his successor in April’s draft.

Lewis

hit the ground running in 2011 and was among the NFL’s top inside linebackers in the first half of the season. Then, after missing four games with a turf toe injury, he seemed to have lost a step.

He’s been one of the league’s most durable players. Lewis has played in 222 games, second-most among active players, ranking him only behind Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson. He’s also the only original Raven left from the 1996 team. The second-longest tenured Raven is Ed Reed, who was drafted by the team in 2002.

No other great middle linebacker has had the longevity Lewis has had.

Dick Butkus retired after nine seasons with the Chicago Bears because of a series of knee injuries. Another Bears great, Mike Singletary, retired after 12 seasons before his production declined. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jack Lambert hung up his cleats after 11 years because of a severe toe injury.

As father time continues to catch up with Lewis, you have to wonder whether this will be his last season.