Free agency takes toll on Ravens at LB

Two hours into free agency, the Ravens lost their top linebacker and their sacks leader from last season. When you factor in the retirement of Ray Lewis, the Ravens are hurting at linebacker. It's not just a need this offseason. It's become a necessity.

Of the top six linebackers on the Super Bowl champions, half are gone: Lewis (retirement), Dannell Ellerbe (signed with Miami) and Paul Kruger (signed with Cleveland).

The only linebackers left on the Ravens with any experience on defense are Terrell Suggs, Jameel McClain, Courtney Upshaw, Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Josh Bynes. Of this group, only Suggs and Upshaw were drafted. Plus, Baltimore isn't sure it can count on McClain after his season ended with a spinal cord contusion.

The loss that hurts the Ravens the most is Ellerbe. He was starting to become a playmaker on Baltimore's defense. If McClain isn't ready to play, the top two inside linebackers on the Ravens right now are McClellan and Ayanbadejo. Bynes would likely rank third.

The Ravens undoubtedly will sign an inside linebacker in free agency. The options aren't stellar: the Bengals' Rey Maualuga, the Dolphins' Karlos Dansby, the Jets' Bart Scott, the Packers' Brad Jones and the Cowboys' Dan Connor. The Raiders' Rolando McClain could also be released.

Baltimore will have a better shot at addressing the inside linebacker position in the draft, especially if Georgia's Alec Ogletree, Notre Dame's Manti Te'o or LSU's Kevin Minter are available at the bottom of the first round.

The Ravens have taken their lumps before early in free agency, and this year has proven no different.