The changes to the Ravens’ defense in 2013 could go beyond just replacing retiring MLB Ray Lewis. Four other defensive starters — OLB Paul Kruger, CB Cary Williams, FS Ed Reed and ILB Dannell Ellerbe — will be able to test free agency. This leaves the Ravens with some challenges, with salary-cap room reportedly expected to be slim for Baltimore, according to various estimates.
Kruger and Williams play highly valued positions, and they have played them well in 2012, which could lead to strong demand for each. Kruger has been the club’s best pass rusher, notching a career-high nine sacks. Williams, meanwhile, started all 16regular-season games for the second straight season and intercepted the first four passes of his NFL career.
Losing either Kruger or Webb would be a blow to the Ravens’ defense. Teams can never have enough pass-rush and pass-coverage strength, as Baltimore well knows after losing OLB Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and CB Lardarius Webb (knee) for long stretches this season. Given the premium for pass rushers, Kruger could be the most expensive of the Ravens’ defensive free agents to retain, but Williams’ earning power also figures to have increased this season. Ellerbe, as noted in this space last week, could be back if the price is right; he plays a less-in-demand position than Kruger or Williams and can likely be signed for a smaller cost.
There has been much speculation about Reed’s future in Baltimore and whether he, like Lewis, will no longer be in a Ravens uniform next season. He will be 35 in September, and the Ravens have much work to do in free agency, with securing QB Joe Flacco a huge priority in addition to all of their defensive decisions.