Baltimore Ravens Continue To Lose Key Defensive Players

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After roughly 24 hours of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens’ losses have heavily outweighed their gains, especially on the defensive side.

First on Monday came the surprising trade of Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin was basically given away after he refused to restructure his contract.

However, the most surprising moves came to the Ravens’ defense as they were dealt a couple of blows.

First and foremost was the loss of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The linebacker was the heir apparent to Ray Lewis as Ellerbe was the second highest free agent priority behind Joe Flacco. While the Ravens made moves to create more cap space, his agent was shopping him around the league. When the dust settled, he signed a five-year deal worth just under $35 million with the Miami Dolphins.

With the retirement of Lewis, it was paramount that the Ravens retained Ellerbe. However, the team’s salary cap issues prevented them from keeping him. He was second on the team in tackles, tied for third in sacks and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.

In a more expected move, the Ravens also lost linebacker Paul Kruger to the Cleveland Browns. Kruger had a breakout season as he was the most disruptive and versatile member of the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens knew keeping him would be almost impossible with their cap issues as the Browns swooped in and gave Kruger a five-year deal worth $40.5 million. The $8 million cap hit was way too rich for the Ravens’ blood, so they essentially let Kruger walk.

The Ravens had an idea that re-signing Kruger might be tough after last season as they drafted Courtney Upshaw as an insurance policy should Kruger leave. Upshaw played well in a somewhat limited role in 2012 and will slide into Kruger’s spot on the defense.

In another surprise move, the Ravens released hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard this morning. The seven-year veteran led the Ravens in tackles this season and was a great compliment to the ball-hawking Ed Reed. The most surprising part of the releasing of Pollard is that it will only clear $1 million in cap room, so the Ravens cut their top strong safety for a relatively small amount of money.

The Ravens re-signed James Ihedigbo to a one-year deal on Tuesday and he is expected to replace Pollard as the starting strong safety.

To the chagrin of Ravens fans, the end of the Ravens’ defensive purge may not be over yet as two key defenders remain unsigned.

Free safety Reed has expressed the sentiment that he wants to retire a Raven, but it may be tough to retain him considering his pricetag and interest from other teams. Reed is coming off another Pro Bowl season and winning a Super Bowl only ups his value around the league.

Another member of the Ravens’ defense who may be lured away like Kruger and Ellerbe is cornerback Cary Williams. The four-year veteran had a monster season after Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in Week 6 and Williams did a great job taking over as the top cover corner. Williams co-led the team in interceptions with Reed and also led the team in passes defended while finishing fourth in tackles.

Getting Webb back will be huge for the secondary, but the unit will be much weaker if Reed, Williams and Pollard are all gone.

Thus the Ravens are at a crossroads in regards to their defense. With key cogs already gone and more potentially on their way out, the Ravens’ front office needs to do everything they can to stop the hemorrhaging. The losses they have sustained have already made the notion of repeating as champs exponentially more difficult. If they continue to lose other key members of their defense, the idea of repeating may become simply a pipe dream.

 

Follow James on Twitter @JT3sticks


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