|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
The Baltimore Ravens were unable to keep their top priority in free agency.
Free-agent inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe reached an agreement in principle with the Miami Dolphins, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has confirmed. That means both of the Ravens' starting inside linebackers from the Super Bowl, Ellerbe and Ray Lewis, won't be returning next season.
Ellerbe stands to make $35 million over five years, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The Dolphins didn't stop with Ellerbe as the team also agreed to terms with former Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler on a 5-year, $26 million deal, including $13 million guaranteed, according to league sources.
Miami's additions of Ellerbe and Wheeler put an end to Karlos Dansby's Dolphins career, however, as the linebacker, who led the team with 134 tackles last season, will be released.
Dansby confirmed his exit from Miami on Wednesday in a radio interview with WQAM-AM in Miami and said his agent has already been contacted by at least four teams.
Ellerbe was the Ravens' best defensive player by the end of the team's Super Bowl run. This season, he finished second on the team in tackles (89) and sacks (4.5).
News of the linebacker's deal with the Dolphins comes as a surprise as the two sides never were heavily linked. The Browns and Bills were considered the favorites to take him from Baltimore.
Inside linebacker now becomes a priority for the Ravens. Even the status of Jameel McClain, a three-year starter at inside linebacker, is uncertain after a spinal cord contusion ended his season last year.
The Ravens have now lost Ellerbe and Paul Kruger (who reportedly has signed with the Browns) within the first two hours of free agency. Of their own free agents, the top priority now becomes safety Ed Reed.
Wheeler, 28, played in all 16 games for the Raiders last season, collecting 109 tackles and three sacks. He played his first four seasons with the Colts.
Miami, on the other hand, has made the biggest free-agent splash thus far, having also reportedly reigned in Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace.