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Ellerbe's departure creates void for Ravens at inside linebacker

Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tackles New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez during the first half of the AFC Championship in Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 20.
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tackles New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez during the first half of the AFC Championship in Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 20. (AP FILE PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

The already daunting task of replacing Ray Lewis will now be even more of a challenge for the Baltimore Ravens.

Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, arguably Baltimore's top defensive player last season, agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins Tuesday, according to multiple reports.

Ellerbe's contract with the Dolphins is reportedly worth $35 million over five seasons.

Ellerbe, who's just 27 years old, had 92 tackles and 4½ sacks during the regular season last year despite starting just seven games. He added 32 tackles in the playoffs, including a team-high nine tackles in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

With Ellerbe leaving, Ray Lewis retiring and Jameel McClain's status for next season yet to be determined because of a spinal cord injury, Baltimore is left with special-teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and former practice squad player Josh Bynes as its only two healthy returning inside linebackers from last year's team.

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick said on Twitter Tuesday that Ellerbe's departure "leaves the Ravens void of talent at [an inside linebacker] position that hasn't been a concern for 17 years!"

Ellerbe joined Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He started just seven games during his first three NFL seasons, but he developed into an integral member of the defense last year after replacing an injured Lewis in the starting lineup seven games into the season.

Ellerbe battled a variety of different injuries throughout the rest of the year - including injuries to both of his thumbs as well as a sprained ankle that forced him to miss three games late in the regular season and lingered into the playoffs - but he finished with nine tackles or more in seven of the 11 games he started.

With Ellerbe gone, the Ravens could consider moving either Courtney Upshaw or Albert McClellan from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, a position McClellan's played in the past. More likely though, Baltimore will look to add an inside linebacker either through free agency or through the NFL draft in April.

Karlos Dansby, Nick Barnett, D.J. Williams and Jasper Brinkley are among the top free agent inside linebackers available.

Dansby is a particularly intriguing option. He had 134 tackles for the Dolphins last year, but he was released Tuesday after the team agreed to terms with Ellerbe. Dansby is still just 31 and recorded a total of 237 tackles with Miami the last two years.

If the Ravens choose to address the position through the draft, Alec Ogletree (Georgia), Manti Te'o (Notre Dame), Kevin Minter (LSU), Jon Bostic (Florida) and Nico Johnson (Alabama) are players that could be of interest to Baltimore at some point during the first three rounds.

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