Ravens roster analysis: Linebackers

Ravens roster analysis: Linebackers
February 24, 2013, 9:30 pm
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The Ravens are rightfully basking in their Super Bowl victory, but behind the scenes, work on the 2013 season has already begun. The personnel staff has already spent countless hours scouting college players and Ravens brass is at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff also must deal with free agency, the salary cap, and the enormous issue of Joe Flacco's contract status. Newsome made clear at the 'State of the Ravens' news conference after the season that the Ravens do not expect to restructure a lot of contracts as they did after the previous Super Bowl title. Translation: There is likely to be significant roster upheaval this offseason.

We’re taking a look at each Ravens position group to see who is likely to come back, who is likely to be gone, and what the ramifications are.

We've already looked at the offensive side of the ball -- links to all those units can be found here -- and the defensive line. Now, the linebackers.

You can find more on the terminology (unrestricted vs. restricted free agents, etc.) here. Note that for this analysis, we look only at players who were on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve.

Unrestricted free agents: Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger

Restricted free agents: None

Exclusive-rights free agents: Josh Bynes, Adrian Hamilton, Albert McClellan

Under contract: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw

No area of the Ravens team is facing more potential upheaval than the linebacker group. Ray Lewis is already gone, and it's possible that Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe could be as well via free agency. Plus Jameel McClain is coming off a spinal/neck injury that cut his season short.

Coach John Harbaugh said after the season that he is "very optimistic" that McClain can return, and if so he figures to be a leader of the defense.

Worst case scenario: McClain is out and Kruger (team-high nine sacks) and Ellerbe both leave. Who's left?

Courtney Upshaw and a healthy Terrell Suggs would be back as the likely starters on the outside. Upshaw, the Ravens top pick in last year's draft, started slowly but progressed as the season wore on. He had five tackles and forced a turnover in the Super Bowl after making 55 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in the regular season.

Suggs battled back, as he promised he would, to return from his torn Achilles by October. He never got back to his Defensive Player of the Year form, and later battled a triceps injury, but if Suggs, 30, is back at 100 percent the Ravens defense benefits immeasurably.

Newsome has said the Ravens must get better in the middle of the defense, and trying to keep Ellerbe would help. When healthy, he was the Ravens best defensive player last season. If Ellerbe hits the free agency marketplace, he will have suitors, and the Ravens might have a hard time matching an offer.

It's likely the Ravens will look for inside linebacker help in the draft, where value might be there at No. 32 in the first round.

With injuries wreaking havoc on the linebacker group this year, former practice squad players Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes both ended up starting at times, as did special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo. That's not the way defensive coordinator Dean Pees drew it up in August, and probably not the way he wants to draw it up this August, but at least all three got extensive experience on defense in case they are the next men up again.

McClellan started 12 games at outside linebacker and can also play inside. He figures to be in the mix again. Bynes finished with 31 tackles after beginning the season on the practice squad. Ayanbadejo, signed to a new contract last offseason, still earns his keep on special teams, and led the team with 14 special teams tackles. He also had 30 tackles and a sack on defense.  

Adrian Hamilton was signed to the Ravens practice squad in September, then was called up to the 53-man roster in December and appeared in two games. He has potential as an edge rusher but will have work to do again to make the team in August.