When inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe left the Ravens to sign a $35 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in March, it was primarily a financial decision.
The Dolphins' offer -- which included a $7 million signing bonus with a total of $17 million in guaranteed money -- trumped the Ravens' last contract proposal by a few million dollars per year and nearly double the amount of total guaranteed money. The Ravens had made Ellerbe a negotiating priority, but because of a tight salary-cap situation, they had constraints on how much they could spend on him.
For Ellerbe, it was also a chance to establish himself with a new team after winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens during a final season in Baltimore where the former undrafted free agent from Georgia recorded a career-high 89 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks.
Instead of replacing Ray Lewis at middle linebacker after his retirement, which Ellerbe had hoped for until being unable to reach a financial compromise with the Ravens, he's now calling the defensive signals as the Dolphins' new middle linebacker.
"At the end of the day, it's all about making a name for yourself and going somewhere where you can start your own legacy," Ellerbe told The Baltimore Sun. "I just feel like that's where I was at in my career. I got the blessing from Ray. It don't matter what anybody else thinks."
Ellerbe's emergence as an athletic three-down linebacker prompted the Dolphins to make a big investment in him, installing him as the middle linebacker in their 4-3 scheme after playing inside linebacker opposite Lewis in the Ravens' 3-4 set.
"It's still football at the end of the day, learning different plays and a different system," Ellerbe said. "It's a 4-3 and I come from a 3-4, and it's a transition to a different defense. I'm playing the exact same position I played in college. I played Mike, so it's nothing I'm not used to. I basically run the whole defense."
Without Ellerbe and Lewis, the Ravens have moved forward by signing former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Daryl Smith and drafting Kansas State All-American Arthur Brown in the second round. They're hoping that inside linebacker Jameel McClain can recover from a spinal cord contusion suffered in December against the Washington Redskins.
Back in town for McClain's football and fitness clinic at Reisterstown Regional Park last weekend, Ellerbe rejoined his teammates on the field only a short distance away from the Ravens' training complex.
Did it feel strange?
"It's always good to come back here where I started my career," Ellerbe said. "It's just awesome. It really doesn't feel weird. It's just good to see these guys again. We're like brothers. We've been together for so long. It's a great feeling. It's kind of a different feeling, too."
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