By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
9:59 AM EST, January 4, 2013
Standing at his locker inside team headquarters, Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe made it abundantly clear that he prefers to remain in Baltimore when he becomes a free agent in March.
Ellerbe has established himself as a valuable defender for the NFL's 17th-ranked defense, ranking second on the team with 89 tackles while also recording 4 1/2 sacks as an inside blitzer.
Now, it's up in the air whether the Ravens will be able to afford Ellerbe as an unrestricted free agent or if he'll wind up playing in another NFL city next season.
"I know the defense, I love the city, I know people here, I have a good relationship with coaches, I know the playbook," Ellerbe said. "Everything that I could possibly want is here, but it’s a business. It’s not up to me. If it was up to me, I’d be here."
With star middle linebacker Ray Lewis retiring after this season, which will create $4.35 million in salary-cap space, there could be a spot for Ellerbe going forward.
However, the Ravens invested a three-year, $10.5 million contract in middle linebacker Jameel McClain last year. Although McClain is coming off a season-ending spinal cord contusion, he indicated he should be ready to go by offseason minicamps and won't need to undergo surgery.
And Ellerbe could command lucrative offers as a free agent despite a history of durability issues as he battled a broken thumb, sprained thumb, left foot and a sprained right ankle this season in 13 games and seven starts. Last season, he was plagued by hamstring problems.
Nonetheless, Ellerbe is talented.
"When he’s out there, he’s always been good,” Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach said. "He’s physical, fast, and he can cover a lot of receivers and tight ends. When he's back out there, we're a lot better on defense. Hopefully, we can hold onto him, but you know how this business is."
When a reporter asked Ellerbe if Lewis was passing the torch to him, the former University of Georgia standout wasn't enthused about that characterization, saying, "Nah, I wouldn't say that."