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What the losses of Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe really mean for the Ravens' defense.
The reality of the salary cap era continues to hit hard in Baltimore just one day following the Anquan Boldin trade. Two more familiar faces got away today at the start of free agency. Paul Kruger signed a 5-year deal worth $40M in Cleveland and Dannell Ellerbe, the heir apparent to Ray Lewis, took his talents to South Beach for 5 years and $35M. Ozzie Newsome must now face a number of burning questions about a seemingly depeleted linebacking corps.
The Ravens aren't losing all that much in Kruger, a pass rushing specialist who only started 7 games in 2012 and only recorded a total of 6 sacks in the two seasons prior. Kruger struggles mightily against the run and was not considered by the Ravens to be worth the money of an every down linebacker. He also benefited from the extra attention given to Terrell Suggs by opposing offensive coordinaters. Kruger only recorded 1.5 sacks prior to Suggs' return in Houston and went on to record 12 sacks over the next 13 games. While Cleveland is getting a good role player to fit their new 3-4 defense, only time will tell if Kruger can become an every down premiere Outside Linebacker. Courtney Upshaw should be adequate at the very least to fill the void left by Kruger.
The loss of Ellerbe, however, will sting quite a bit more as the Ravens will now be without both of their 2012 starting inside linebackers and no guarantee that Jameel McClain will return 100% from a spinal cord contusion. Baltimore will almost assuredly target an ILB in the first round of the draft, don't be surprised to see Ozzie trade back into the second round if they aren't sold on the players available at the 32nd pick, the linebacker depth in this year's draft allows for more flexibility.
It may be awhile before any news surfaces on free agent Ed Reed, as his age makes him a 2nd tier priority around the league. I expect Reed to remain in Baltimore, similar to Ray Lewis' decision a few years ago when he was almost "assured" to bolt to New York with Rex Ryan.