Dannell Ellerbe played through an ankle injury that forced him to miss three games late in the season, and he overcame a bulging disk in his back to play in the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl.
The Ravens are in the market for a linebacker now that they’re certain to lose Ray Lewis to retirement and likely Paul Kruger to free agency.
Ellerbe, an unrestricted free agent going into his fifth season, has a better chance of staying in Baltimore. As a restricted free agent last season, Ellerbe was retained with a $1.93 million tender by the Ravens.
He'll command significantly more than that in the open market, but he'll still be more affordable compared with Kruger. Kruger, who plays on the outside, led the Ravens with a career-high 9.5 sacks in the regular season and 4.5 in the playoffs.
Ellerbe's value can’t be quantified by statistics though he led the Ravens with nine tackles in the Super Bowl. When media who cover the team voted for the MVP, which went to running back Ray Rice, I was one of the few who cast a vote for Ellerbe. I say that to admit that my view might be a bit biased, but the results with him on the field speak for themselves.
Ellerbe has played various linebacker positions because of injuries on defense, and when he missed games vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos they lost them all.
Among the differences with the Ravens going to Denver for a divisional playoff game where they were a 10-point underdog last month was Ellerbe. They had him and Lewis in that 38-35 double-overtime victory to present a more formidable challenge for Peyton Manning than the defense he throttled 34-17 in Week 15.
Ellerbe had an interception of Tom Brady in the AFC title win at the New England Patriots, and his versatility showed on the last series of the 34-31 win vs. the San Francisco 49ers to bring the Ravens their second Super Bowl title.
Frank Gore exploded for a 33-yard run and appeared heading for the end zone to put them ahead for the first time. Ellerbe was pressing inside and got locked up by left tackle Joe Staley, who stands 6 feet 5 and 315 pounds. Ellerbe was able to shed that block as Gore bounced outside, and despite trailing the play he ran him down to get the force out at the 7.
Down 34-29, the 49ers had four chances to put the ball in the end zone with 2:39 left. Ellerbe got to quarterback Colin Kaepernick on fourth down, hitting him on the release to force an overthrown pass to Michael Crabtree.
So while all of the highlights since the Ravens' victory have centered around Lewis' last ride as he heads into retirement and quarterback and MVP Joe Flacco's sensational postseason performance, look for No. 59 with the dreadlocks flapping from under that purple-and-black helmet.
The Ravens can't afford to lose him, too.