By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
5:46 PM EDT, March 12, 2013
The free agency exodus from the Ravens' roster wasn't expected to necessarily include starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
With middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired and Jameel McClain still not cleared to play football yet following a December spinal cord contusion, the Ravens had identified Ellerbe as a negotiating priority. It didn't work out, though,
Following a lengthy round of negotiations throughout the day Tuesday with the Super Bowl champions, Ellerbe bolted to the Miami Dolphins for a five-year, $35 million contract, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation. Per the source, Ellerbe and the Super Bowl champions had much different financial expectations and never got close to a deal.
The Ravens never got close to the Miami offer, per a source, with a contract offer averaging nearly $5 million per year in comparison to the $7 million annual average extended by the Dolphins. The guaranteed money was roughly half the amount Miami offered.
"Can't blame him at all," McClain told The Baltimore Sun regarding Ellerbe.
Meanwhile, as expected, outside linebacker Paul Kruger parlayed his status as one of the top free agent pass rushers into a five-year, $41 million contract with the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns. The deal included $20 million in guaranteed money.
A former undrafted free agent, Ellerbe had expressed hope to The Sun last week that he might rejoin the Ravens.
He recorded a career-high 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks last season, leading the Ravens with nine tackles in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
“There's always a chance, and that's what I'm hoping will happen,” Ellerbe said last week. “The Ravens are a perfect situation for me. Hopefully, it's a perfect situation for me to sign on the dotted line.”
The departure of Ellerbe will likely entail the Ravens seeking a less expensive alternative at inside linebacker via free agency, sifting through a free agent class that now includes Karlos Dansby when he was cut by the Dolphins with the addition of Ellerbe, and through the NFL draft.
The Ravens did bolster the defensive line Tuesday by adding former New York Giants starter Chris Canty, a 6-foot-7, 320-pounder through a three-year, $8 million contract that includes $2.8 million in guaranteed money, per a league source.
As for Kruger, he was always regarded as a player the Ravens couldn't afford to retain.
Not even an hour into the free agent signing period, Kruger was gone to the Browns. The Ravens weren't in talks with Kruger, knowing that he would be beyond their limited budget.
Kruger, 27, recorded a career-high nine sacks last season, intercepting a pass to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The former second-round draft pick from Utah also had 4 1/2 sacks in the playoffs, twice taking down athletic San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl.
“We are very excited about the addition of Paul Kruger to our team,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinkski said in a statement. “He is a talented linebacker who is going to make an immediate impact on our defense. When you put on the film you see physicality, explosive pass rush and a high motor. He has been very productive for the Ravens, and proved it at the highest level last season in the playoffs.”
Added Browns CEO Joe Banner: “Paul is the type of player we were looking to bring on at the outset of free agency, and we are thrilled that we were able to sign him. Not only do we feel strongly about his ability as a football player, but he will add a great deal from a leadership standpoint as well. He has exhibited marked improvement each year of his career and we believe he can help the Cleveland Browns for many years to come."
With Kruger gone, the Ravens are expected to increase the role of outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the team's second-round draft pick last spring who had a solid rookie season.
The Ravens retained free agent safety James Ihedigbo, but could lose veteran free safety Ed Reed.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is testing the free agent market, much like Lewis did years ago.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has expressed hope about keeping Reed, 34, but the nine-time Pro Bowl selection hired agent David Dunn and appears determined to explore the marketplace.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has been talking with the Ravens, according to his agent.
Agent Bill Parise told The Sun he's spoken with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome regarding the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year as well as six other teams.
"I've talked to Ozzie, sure have, had a good talk about James," Parise said. "It's early and we're not in negotiations, but we're having some good conversations."
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Harrison was cut when the two sides were unable to agree on a reduction of his scheduled $6.57 million salary. The Steelers saved $5.105 million against the salary cap by releasing Harrison.
Harrison turns 35 in May.
He dipped to six sacks last season while dealing with injuries.
Five years ago, Harrison was honored as the top defensive player in the league when he recorded 16 sacks.
Harrison was briefly with the Ravens before joining the Steelers, but was cut by Baltimore when they signed tight end Daniel Wilcox.
"Baltimore would be an outstanding place for James to play because he knows the division and has that familiarity and they're a class organization.," Parise said. "We'll see where it goes."
The Ravens remain a potential destination for St. Louis Rams free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola, according to a league source.
After trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, the Ravens are interested in Amendola.
Nothing has immediately developed, though, as far as negotiations or planning a visit.
Amendola is expected to seek a contract similar to the five-year, $30.775 million contract recently signed by Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline that included a $7 million signing bonus and $12.5 million in total guaranteed money.
Amendola caught 63 passes for 666 yards last season, but was limited to 11 games due to injuries.
There are some durability concerns with Amendola, who's undersized and quick at 5-foot-11, 183 pounds.
The former Texas Tech standout broke his clavicle last season against the Arizona Cardinals, but came back three weeks later and caught 11 passes for 102 yards against the San Francisco 49ers.