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Dannell Ellerbe among players waiting to see where he stands with the Ravens

— Besides trying to hammer out a long-term contract with quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens have made starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe another one of their top priorities.

With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens have a void in the middle of their defense.

As a pending unrestricted free agent, though, Ellerbe is expected to draw heavy interest following a breakout season capped with a team-high nine tackles during a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Ellerbe's agent, Hadley Engelhard, said he's set to meet with Ravens team officials this weekend at the NFL scouting combine.

"I'm sitting down with them, and I hope we'll have some constructive talks," Engelhard said. "Hopefully, that all goes in the right direction. I think Dannell has proven himself to be one of the elite young linebackers in the NFL.

"His best football is in front of him. Hopefully, there's a home for him in Baltimore. If not, I'm sure plenty of other teams will be happy to have him on their roster."

Ellerbe, 27, was an undrafted free agent in 2009 out of the University of Georgia but emerged as a versatile three-down linebacker last season.

Although he battled ankle, foot, thumb and back injuries, Ellerbe finished second on the defense with a career-high 89 tackles along with 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

In the playoffs, Ellerbe had 32 tackles and intercepted New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game.

With Lewis leaving and inside linebacker Jameel McClain still recovering from a spinal cord contusion, the Ravens could use Ellerbe.

Ideally, Ellerbe would like to return.

"This is all I know," Ellerbe said. "It's a family-oriented team. Guys love each other and fight for each other. I would love to be with a team like this."

Like any free agent decision, it always comes back to price.

And Ellerbe is expected to be significantly more expensive than McClain, who was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract last March. Ellerbe could cost more than twice than that to retain, and the Ravens are dealing with a constricted salary-cap situation.

The Ravens have 49 salary-cap commitments for the 2013 fiscal year for a total of $111.136 million, leaving them $10.864 million under a projected salary cap of $122 million. That doesn't include getting back $4.35 million in cap space when Lewis officially retires, accounting for any unrestricted free agent re-signings, a potential $20.46 million exclusive franchise tender or a $14.6 million nonexclusive franchise tender for Flacco or having assigned tenders to restricted free agents.

Meanwhile, the agent for free agent starting cornerback Cary Williams said he also expects to meet with Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty later this week.

Williams started every game last season and had 75 tackles, a career-high four interceptions and led the Ravens with 17 pass deflections.

Williams held up for the most part after being thrust into the role of guarding opponents' top receivers when Lardarius Webb tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He did allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 64.4 percent of their throws in his direction for 1,118 yards and seven touchdowns for a cumulative 89.1 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus.

It's regarded as unlikely that Williams will return to Baltimore after declining a three-year, $15 million contract extension offer from the Ravens prior to last season. With cornerbacks Webb, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown all returning, Williams could wind up with another team.

Williams isn't giving up on the possibility of working something out with Baltimore, though.

"The ultimate goal, if possible, is for Cary is to stay a Raven," said Harold Lewis, Williams' agent. "It's tough terrain with them because of their cap situation and them having to pay their quarterback. If it doesn't work out with Baltimore, I think Cary has elevated his game and himself. He showed a tremendous size-speed ratio, and I'm expecting him to very much be a wanted man by teams."

Endzone

Veteran nose guard Ma'ake Kemoeatu intends to continue playing after revitalizing his career last season, according to his agent.

Kemoeatu started 13 games and had 29 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble after being out of the league the previous year because of weight and injury issues. The 6-foot-5, 345-pounder outplayed former second-round draft pick Terrence Cody, beating him out for the starting job.

Kemoeatu, 34, is an unrestricted free agent and it's unclear if he'll be in the Ravens' plans since general manager Ozzie Newsome has stated he wants to upgrade the defensive tackle position.

"He will play another couple seasons," said Kemoeatu's agent, Ken Vierra. "His new approach to diet and keeping his weight down has really paid off."

awilson@baltsun.com

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