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More changes could be on the horizon for the Ravens

Team will try and keep Ellerbe but it's not easy in the salary-cap era

Mike Preston

8:25 PM EDT, March 11, 2013

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As soon as the Super Bowl ended and quarterback Joe Flacco signed a long term contract, the real business was going to begin as far as reshaping the Ravens.

Several of the team's big name free agents were going to ask for more money, and there wasn't going to be a lot to give.

The latest is Dannell Ellerbe, the best inside linebacker in free agency. There is no doubt that the Ravens want him back, but at what price?

Ellerbe wants a $25 to $30 million contract worth about $6 million per season, and the Ravens want to pay about $5 million a year. If the Ravens hadn't made Flacco the highest paid player in the NFL with a new $120.6 million deal, I'd add $700,000 to $1 million to the offer.

But since that is not the case, I assume the Ravens will ask Ellerbe to take it, or hit the free agent market. At least with star receiver Anquan Boldin, the Ravens will get a sixth round pick after trading him to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday.

With Ellerbe, it might be just a matter of saying goodbye.

I'm not saying it is Flacco's fault the Ravens can't re-sign Ellerbe, but he's just part of the consequences of winning a Super Bowl and having a team that drafts well.

Big stars become bigger after winning a championship and the system is set up for the lesser teams to raid the good ones of their outstanding players. The Ravens signed Flacco and were about to cut Boldin.

Ellerbe might leave on his own terms.

I've always liked Ellerbe, and thought he could become a possible star soon after watching him for a few days during his rookie training camp. Last year, his fourth in the NFL, he finally put it all together registering a career-high 89 tackles and collecting 4.5 sacks.

Unlike most current linebackers, Ellerbe can play every down and during the final quarter of the regular season and through the playoffs he was the Ravens' best player on defense.

But at this point, I can't see making him the $6 million man. He hasn't played well or long enough to earn that kind of money and respect. Terrell Suggs did and so did Haloti Ngata. Flacco was solid in his first four seasons, but hit a hot streak when the Ravens needed him most.

The same can be said for Ellerbe, but Flacco has no baggage. Ellerbe has had some durability issues throughout his career forcing him to miss extended playing time, and last season struggled with thumb, ankle, back and foot injuries.

Those injuries are a minor cause of concern for the Ravens, but will be a greater one for NFL teams if Ellerbe hits the free agency market.

Ellerbe has also had some off the field and work ethic issues. Early in his career, he was late for meetings or team buses which is why he stayed in head coach John Harbaugh's doghouse.

According to a team source, the Ravens no longer have serious doubts about Ellerbe's work ethic but there have been questions about how he will respond once he gets a Super Bowl ring and new contract.

It would appear that Ellerbe might have the upper hand. The Ravens are desperate for a presence in the middle with Ray Lewis retiring, and fellow inside linebacker Jameel McClain recovering from a spinal cord contusion.

The Ravens are also expected to lose pass rusher Paul Kruger in free agency, and Ellerbe can do it all as far as stopping the run, dropping into coverage and providing pressure.

But the upcoming draft is loaded with talented inside linebackers like LSU's Kevin Minter and Georgia's Alec Ogletree. They won't be as good as Ellerbe, but the potential is there.

Plus, the expectations really can't be too high for the defense this season. It appears to be a season for reloading with the Ravens losing Lewis and possibly Ellerbe, Kruger, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams.

But after one season as defensive coordinator, I have much more faith in Dean Pees compared to a year ago, and the Ravens draft record through the years is one of the best in the NFL.

Remember, Ellerbe went undrafted after dealing with off-the-field problems at Georgia?

There is more concern about the offense. Because of salary cap issues, the Ravens asked Boldin to take a $2 million pay cut. When he refused, he was shuffled off to the West Coast. Veteran fullback Vonta Leach could be the next salary cap casualty. These two were great on the field as well as in the locker room in 2012.

But that's the way it is in the NFL these days. It's set up so there may never be a dynasty again, and forces the great teams to lose great established stars like Boldin.

And young upcoming ones like Dannell Ellerbe.

mike.preston@baltsun.com