The personnel decisions facing general manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens front office are no different than what every other team in the NFL is experiencing. However, retaining free agents will be more difficult than usual as their demand and price tags have escalated following the Ravens’ most recent Super Bowl victory.
During the “State of the Ravens” press conference, Newsome made it clear the team wouldn’t be making as strong an effort to keep the team together as they did following their 2000 Super Bowl victory in an effort to repeat. Newsome stated that the team has no plans to use the “Franchise” tag on any player other than Joe Flacco, though he still remains optimistic that they’ll get a deal done with the quarterback before the March 4 tag application deadline.
With Newsome identifying the middle of the defense as the team’s biggest need heading into the offseason, apart from resigning Flacco, the next priority players on the list are linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. Still on the emotional high of being crowned world champions, both players expressed their desires to return to Baltimore but the chances of that happening aren’t likely.
The cash-strapped Ravens will be saving $4.35 million with Ray Lewis’ retirement and will reinvest that money back into the linebacking corp, but realistically can only afford to keep one player – not both.
Kruger has evolved into a solid pass rusher and will have a new contract heading into the prime of his career. During the regular season, he compiled 9.0 sacks and added half of that amount in a quarter of the games during the playoffs, including two sacks in the Super Bowl. For a defense that struggled to rush the passer for most of the season as Terrell Suggs recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, Kruger was critical – therefore, he has leverage. The Ravens aren’t in a position to pay anywhere near the reported $7 million asking price for Kruger and it’s likely that another team will make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Resigning Ellerebe is a more realistic option for the Ravens and certainly is less of a gamble financially than Kruger. Ellerbe was the catalyst for the success of the Ravens defense as the team struggled mightily during his absence with an ankle injury. He returned during a Week 16 victory against the Giants and looked explosive, even though he told me privately his ankle wasn’t even 85%.
Contractually, Ellerbe should make more than the 3-years/$10.5 million the Ravens gave linebacker Jameel McClain this past offseason and likely wouldn’t exceed the $4.35 million per season the Ravens would have been obligated to pay Lewis.