While some think the Baltimore Ravens overpaid for quarterback Joe Flacco, his contract was also a win for the team. Not only did it keep Flacco long term but it will allow Baltimore to be more active in free agency.
If the Ravens used the franchise tag on Flacco today, they would've committed $19 million of their cap to the Super Bowl MVP. His salary cap number after the record-setting deal has been reported as $7 million, which frees up some cap room to try and retain their own free agents like Ed Reed, nine-time Pro Bowl safety; linebacker Paul Kruger, last year's sacks leader for Baltimore; and Cary Williams, a two-year starter at cornerback.
The Ravens' priority, though, should be linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. On paper, he doesn't appear too important. He's a former undrafted player who has 14 career starts. But, by the Super Bowl, Ellerbe was the Ravens' best player on defense.
The best argument to focus on Ellerbe is the state of the inside linebacker position. Ray Lewis retired after winning his second title, and Jameel McClain finished the season on injured reserve with a spinal cord contusion. McClain hopes to play in 2013, but there are no guarantees. The Ravens can't afford to lose Ellerbe, too.
Ellerbe is also the best option when comparing him to the team's other free agents. He's younger than Reed and has fewer injury concerns. He's an every-down player unlike Kruger. And, unlike at inside linebacker, the Ravens have enough depth at cornerback to fill Williams' spot.
The Ravens could be hesitant to give Ellerbe a big contract based on his history. He isn't very disciplined, and the team has questioned his work ethic in the past, which is why his playing time has been limited over the years.
But the Ravens need him to fill that hole in their defense. He's got size, athleticism and strength. He attacks the line of scrimmage to stop the run and he is underrated as a blitzing linebacker up the middle. If the Ravens don't pay Ellerbe, another team certainly will. And Ellerbe may not have to go far. The Browns, who are switching to a 3-4 defense, could have their eye on him.