For the first time in team history, Ray Lewis will not be the opening day starter at middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. With such a huge hole to fill it only makes sense that the Ravens make a strong push to retain Dannell Ellerbe.
Ellerbe had a yeoman-like season, as he managed to help lead the defense despite injury issues of his own. The onus was really on Ellerbe to step up after Lewis was lost for the regular season after Week 6, and Ellerbe did not disappoint.
Despite injuries to both thumbs, Ellerbe played in 13 games and finished second on the team with 92 tackles. He was tied for second on the team with 4.5 sacks and also had two forced fumbles, while he habitually led the team in tackles.
Lewis’ return for the playoffs didn’t hamper Ellerbe’s performance, as he finished tied for the second-most tackles in the postseason and also had an interception. It was essentially the passing of the torch from Lewis, who led the playoffs with 51 tackles, to Ellerbe who seems to be the heir apparent.
That is of course if the Ravens can re-sign Ellerbe. The undrafted unrestricted free agent will get a lot of looks around the league, as he enters just his fifth season. The Ravens chose not to franchise Ellerbe because it would have been a cap hit of over $9 million.
Like the Joe Flacco contract, the Ravens will have to be creative if they are to keep Ellerbe and possibly Paul Kruger. The Flacco contract gave the Ravens some wiggle room, so it makes the prospect of re-signing Ellerbe more realistic than originally thought.
It seems that Ellerbe has found a home in Baltimore and both his value and role would be huge. He has been groomed to be Lewis’ eventual replacement, and that time has come. Unless another team comes over the top with a crazy offer, expect Ellerbe to remain a member of the Ravens, as he will sign a deal in the rage of three-to-five years and help anchor a defense that will be without Ray Lewis for the first time in Ravens’ history.
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