With Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announcing he'll retire after his team's current playoff run comes to an end, the team will need to keep as many of their veteran linebackers as possible in the upcoming season. No two impending free agents at the position are more important than Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger.
Ellerbe has been both a weak-side and middle linebacker this year, taking over at times for Lewis when he spent 10 weeks sidelined with his torn triceps. Kruger has operated in a "rush" linebacker capacity, starting in place of Terrell Suggs, who began the year healing from an offseason Achilles' tendon tear and then, later, a torn biceps. He's also been alternating with rookie Courtney Upshaw at strong-side backer.
Though Kruger has mainly been a situational pass rusher in his career, the loss of Jarret Johnson in free agency and then Suggs' injury thrust him into a starting role, tasked with stopping both the run and the pass. His 806 snaps have been almost evenly divided between run and pass rush.
Kruger is the Ravens' sack leader this year with nine, and he also has six defensed passes, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's an integral part of Baltimore's defense, and the Ravens cannot afford to let him walk in free agency this year.
The same goes for Ellerbe, who has proven he can go from backup to starter with little trouble. He's also been quite good against the run this year as well as in coverage, and though he's played only 88 pass-rush snaps, he has 4.5 sacks on the season.
The Ravens learned some valuable lessons about linebacker depth in 2012, and hopefully that will translate to them finding the cash to keep both Ellerbe and Kruger in Baltimore for 2013.