With the new contract for QB Joe Flacco one that is cap-friendly enough for the Baltimore Ravens to be able to sign their other free agents that thy are targeting, including what appears to be their next highest priority, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia in 2009. The 27-year old was thought to be a risk with injury and off-the-field concerns but his body of work in college made him a great pick after the draft and he has not failed to impress his coaches since he joined the team.
While he still has had some injury issues, he was by far the best Ravens linebacker in the 2012 regular season and continued his performance with a solid post season as well. Now he is an unrestricted free agent and the Ravens would love to re-sign him and keep part of the stability at inside linebacker despite the retirement of Ray Lewis.
According to Mark Sandritter of SB Nation, Ellerbe is the top linebacker on the list of free agents, and ironically enough, Paul Kruger is listed as the second best. While Kruger plays more like a defensive end, he is rumored to be in line for a contract that pays him $9-10 million a year, with the most likely landing spots either the Indianapolis Colts or Cleveland Browns.
However, could Ellerbe be looking at a deal that exceeds what the Ravens feel is a fair one much less one they could fit into their salary cap? The reports are that Dannell is looking for a deal in the neighborhood of 3-4 years and $25-30 million. Those numbers may be beyond what the Ravens could match and that would leave and even larger hole in the middle of the team's second level of defense at inside linebacker.
Jameel McClain's injury last year as well as his lackluster play leaves the team with few options other than looking around the league at other available veteran free agents or turning their attention to the NFL Draft. With a rookie in the lineup, the Ravens could have significant issues without that veteran leadership at that position after being used to having the best in NFL history there for the past 17 seasons.
The Ravens need to do whatever they can to keep Ellerbe in the fold and Dannell needs to do what he needs to do to work out a deal that keep him a Raven as they were the ones who gave him the chance to prove his value in the NFL.