The celebration phase of an NFL championship ends for the Ravens on March 12, as free agency looms for a lot of their most vital players. We know a deal will get done to hold on to Joe Flacco, even if it's done by use of the "franchise tag". But what about guys like Dannell Ellerbe (ILB) or Paul Kruger (OLB) ? I would consider these guys to be as key to the Ravens' success in 2012 and their Super run of the table as anyone else on the roster.
Losing Dannell Ellerbe at inside linebacker would leave a huge hole in the middle of the
Ravens defense. With Ray Lewis' retirement, the Ravens may need Ellerbe now more than ever.
Here's the official list of Ravens free agents now being evaluated as compiled by Ravens.com writer Garrett Downing:
Unrestricted Free Agents —
QB Joe Flacco: The franchise quarterback is coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance and is widely regarded as the top free agent in the NFL. He’ll never make it to the open market, as the Ravens hope to work out a long-term deal with him or use the franchise tag.
S Ed Reed: The Ravens have said on numerous occasions that they want the future Hall of Famer back in Baltimore next season. Reed has expressed interest in remaining with the Ravens and has also said he could see himself playing a few more years. Reed’s future in Baltimore depends on the contract length he’s seeking and the kind of money he wants.
LB Dannell Ellerbe: The inside linebacker finished second on the team with 89 tackles and was a critical piece in the middle of the defense. He moved into a starting role midway through the season and re-signing him could help offset the loss of fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis.
CB Cary Williams: For the second straight season, Williams started every game at cornerback for the Ravens. He led the team with four interceptions in the regular season and played tight defense throughout the playoffs. He could fetch a big contract for a team looking to add a starting corner.
OLB Paul Kruger: After a breakout 2012 campaign, Kruger is in store for a big payday. He led the Ravens with nine sacks during the regular season and tacked on 4.5 more in the playoffs. He’s a pass rush specialist, and those players tend to go for top dollar on the open market.
LT Bryant McKinnie: The veteran left tackle stepped up his performance in the postseason and showed that he can still play. McKinnie isn’t likely to get a long-term deal because he’s a 33-year-old lineman who has struggled with his weight in recent years. But he can still be an immediate starter, and the Ravens could look to bring him back for another season.
S Sean Considine: The veteran special teamer was active for every game this season and was one of the leaders on special teams. He led the punt coverage teams and also provided additional depth in the secondary. The Ravens could bring him back to keep some veteran leadership on special teams.
S James Ihedigbo: In his first season with the Ravens, Ihedigbo saw action in all 16 games. He was primarily a special teamer, but stepped into a starting safety role when Bernard Pollard went down with an injury.
DL Ma’ake Kemoeatu: The veteran defensive tackle made an effective return to football after sitting out the 2011 season. He took over the starting nose tackle spot from Terrence Cody and finished the year with 29 tackles and one sack. The Ravens could bring him back to compete for a starting job again and to provide depth in the middle of the defense.
TE Billy Bajema: The veteran tight end was active the entire season and played in eight games. He was primarily an extra blocker in jumbo or goal line situations, and didn’t register a catch on the season. He was also used as a fullback when Vonta Leach went down with injuries.
CB Chris Johnson: The veteran cornerback joined the Ravens midway through the season after Jimmy Smith went down with a sports hernia. He provided additional depth in the secondary and also saw some reps on special teams. The Ravens could bring him back to have veteran depth for next season.
DL Ryan McBean: The veteran defensive tackle spent the entire season on injured reserve after breaking his ankle in the preseason. He was expected to compete with Kemoeatu and Cody for a starting job at defensive tackle, but the injury sidelined him before his season even got started.
LB Ricky Brown: The inside linebacker went on injured reserve because of concussions in the preseason and missed the entire year. Concussions have kept him off the field in recent years and it’s unclear if he will try to return to football.
Restricted Free Agents —
To keep restricted free agents, the Ravens have to apply an offer sheet valued at a certain draft pick. Another team could then try to sign the restricted free agent by giving the Ravens the corresponding draft pick and offering the player a contract the Ravens can’t match.
TE Dennis Pitta: He had a breakout season with 10 total touchdowns (regular season and playoffs) and has established himself as one of Flacco’s favorite targets. Pitta could garner a high offer sheet, possibly a first or second round, to prevent another team from trying to steal him from Baltimore.
TE Ed Dickson: The tight end is coming off a down year in terms of his production in the passing game, as he caught 21 passes for 225 yards and no touchdowns. However, he was an important part of the blocking game and hauled in two critical catches in the Super Bowl.
OL Ramon Harewood: The guard/tackle started for the first five games before getting replaced by Bobbie Williams and Jah Reid. After losing his starting job, Harewood never returned to the starting lineup and played in just six games.
DL Arthur Jones: The former fifth-round pick had a solid season, where he started six games and registered 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles. He was a key run stuffer and displayed some prowess as a pass rusher.
WR David Reed: The receiver and return man returned to the lineup in Week 13 after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list to recover from an ACL tear. He was primarily used on the special teams coverage units and finished the year with four special teams tackles.
LS Morgan Cox: The long snapper has been with the team for the last three seasons and has been consistent. He was the team’s recipient for the Edward Block Courage Award in 2011 after playing through a torn ACL for nearly an entire game.
The wild card in all of these personnel evaluations is the Salary Cap. Estimates of the Ravens' available cap space vary wildly, anywhere from $12 million under the cap (NFL.com) to $5 million over the cap (Peter King, SI). Only the Ravens' front office knows the real number—and they aren't telling.