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Ravens: Decisions, Decisions

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It’s hard to repeat as NFL Champions. It’s been nearly a decade since the last repeat, and only a handful of teams have ever done it.

The Ravens will have it even tougher than most.

Coming off their unexpected run to the Lombardi trophy, Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome will have to figure out how to handle 13 unrestricted free agents and a handful of important restricted free agents while facing the prospect of being over the salary cap.

It’s going to be tough, but this list should help Ozzie make some difficult decisions on his big name free agents.

The No-Brainers

QB Joe Flacco

There is no way the Ravens let Joe Flacco walk after the way he performed in the playoffs. The quarterback has entrenched himself among the best in the game, and it’s pretty inconceivable that the Ravens would let him walk away.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks heading into the prime of their career don’t hit the open market very often. The closest comparison is Drew Brees and his negotiations from last offseason. Brees was two seasons removed from winning a championship but had just completed a record-breaking season. He ended up with a five-year, $100 million deal at the age of 33. Flacco is fresh off his championship, had one of the best playoff runs in history and is only 28. The question isn’t if Baltimore will re-sign Flacco, but for how much and how long the deal will be for.

LB Dannell Ellerbe

With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens have a big hole to fill in the middle of their defense. And with few other viable replacements on the market, retaining Ellerbe is the best option for Baltimore. The 27-year-old played through pain during the Ravens Super Bowl run, and did so at a high level. Should they choose to let Ellerbe walk away, the Ravens would likely be forced to look to the draft to replace both he and Lewis. Brendon Ayanbadejo is still on the roster, but hasn’t established himself as a starting-quality linebacker in the league and is already 36. Put it flatly, the Ravens aren’t going to find anyone better than Ellerbe out there.

Tough Calls

S Ed Reed

The impending decision the Ravens will have to make regarding Ed Reed will likely be the toughest of the offseason. The legendary free safety has been flirting with retirement for years, but is apparently intent on continuing his career. With his resume, Reed can command a hefty contract for an aging player. On one hand, it’s tough to picture Reed playing in any jersey except the purple and black. But the Ravens are already looking at having cap issues re-signing all their players, and are already deep at safety. It would be a bitter pill for Ravens’ fans to swallow if Reed is allowed to walk, but it may be best for Baltimore’s cap outlook if he does.

TE Dennis Pitta & TE Ed Dickson

Both members of the Ravens tight end duo will be restricted free agents this offseason, so Baltimore will have the option to bring back both. Led by the Patriots, two tight-end sets have become popular throughout the league, and in Pitta and Dickson the Ravens have two guys with very different skill sets. Dickson can be a punishing blocker with skills to catch the ball, while Pitta is one of Flacco’s favorite targets. If they can work out friendly deals with both players, Baltimore would be wise to hold on to them. But if it comes down to one or the other, Flacco’s rapport with Pitta should be the overriding factor.

Let Them Walk

CB Cary Williams

With Lardarius Webb sidelined for much of the season, Williams stepped up and was the Ravens’ most consistent cornerback in 2012. He’s likely to be looking for a big contract coming off the championship year, and with Webb due to return in the fall the Ravens won’t have as great a need for Williams, whether or not they can afford him.

LB/DE Paul Kruger

Kruger showed the league he could be a top-notch pass rusher this season, with 9 regular season sacks and another 4.5 in the playoffs, and the Ravens’ depleted defense needed his consistent pressure. But much like Williams, Kruger will have plenty of suitors. Assuming Terrell Suggs returns to full strength next season, the price tag on Kruger will likely be more than Baltimore will be willing to spend on their second-best pass rusher.

OL Bryant McKinnie

In 2011, McKinnie was a keystone on the Ravens’ offensive line. 2012 was a different story though, as he was unable to keep himself on the starting unit. While McKinnie helped key the offensive line’s resurgence in the playoffs, the Ravens should let him go, either replacing him from within or finding a younger, cheaper player on the free agent market or draft.

Brett Weisband is TDdaily’s AFC North blogger. Follow him on Twitter @weisband.