Ellerbe should now be top priority

Ellerbe should now be top priority
March 2, 2013, 2:45 pm
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Now that the Ravens have a deal in place with Joe Flacco -- the i's will all be dotted and t's will all be crossed by Monday on a reported six-year, $120 million deal -- item No. 1 on their offseason to-do list can be crossed off.

Now it's on to No. 2. What, exactly, is No. 2? Is it working out a new deal with Ed Reed? Trying to keep Paul Kruger?

The top priority now should become re-signing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Although the numbers of the Flacco deal have not been disclosed, it's safe to assume this was a cap-friendly deal, meaning the Ravens will have more cash on hand than they would if they had given Flacco an exclusive franchise tag at roughly $20 million.

That should allow them more flexibility to pursue free agents or re-sign their own pending free agents. The latter list includes Reed, Kruger, Ellerbe and Cary Williams, among others.

Technically, with Flacco now in the fold the Ravens could turn around and use the franchise tag on a different player. That would need to be done by Monday at 4 p.m., but at the Ravens end-of-season news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome said that wasn't going to happen.

"If we get a deal done with Joe, we will not franchise another player," Newsome said.

He also said the Ravens need to get better in the middle of the defense, and when he was healthy, Ellerbe was the Ravens' best defensive player. If Ellerbe does depart via free agency -- and starting linebackers on Super Bowl champions will have suitors -- the Ravens still need to fill that void somehow.

Ray Lewis is gone, and Jameel McClain's status has to be considered questionable considering he's dealing with a neck/spinal issue. Do the Ravens turn to Josh Bynes again? Albert McClellan? A rookie in the draft? Ellerbe won't be cheap, but he is the best option if the Ravens truly are committed to strengthening the middle of the defense.

Sure, the Ravens would love to have Reed back. And Kruger, and Williams. They aren't all coming back. That's basic NFL economics. With Flacco now in the house, the Ravens should now work hard to make sure Ellerbe returns as well.