2012 NFL Free Agents: Baltimore Ravens Lose If Brendon Ayanbadejo Leaves

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 29, 2012

As a linebacker, the Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo might be expendable; on special teams, however, he's crucial
As a linebacker, the Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo might be expendable; on special teams, however, he's crucialRob Carr/Getty Images

While impending Baltimore Ravens free agents Ray Rice and Ben Grubbs are getting the most attention, the team has a number of players who are set to hit the open market in March if they don't get new deals.

Many of these players are on the defensive side of the ball, including safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski, defensive tackle Brandon McKinnie, inside linebacker Jameel McClain and defensive end Cory Redding. All have varying degrees of priority to the Ravens, but what about outside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo?

Ayanbadejo seems, initially, to be an expendable member of the Ravens defense, especially with McClain, the two safeties and Redding being far more important to retain than a linebacker who sits on the depth chart behind Ray Lewis.

However, Ayanbadejo's contributions on special teams are what the Ravens will miss the most if they cannot keep him around in 2012.

In his nine years in the league, Ayanbadejo has been a three-time special teams Pro Bowler and has led the Ravens, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins in special teams tackles and stops six times.

His 31 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2011 are just added bonuses for a player who makes a very clear difference in one of the most unsung areas of the game.

Comcast SportsNet Ravens insider John Eisenberg thinks that the team can retain him on a one-year deal, but Ayanbadejo has made it clear he wants to be paid fully what he's worth.

He stated via Twitter that he won't take a pay cut or hometown discount to stay around, adding that he wants to be "treated fairly" as far as a new contract is concerned.

Those comments make it seem as though the Ravens, who are close to the cap and want to make long-term deals with both Grubbs and Rice this offseason as well as sign quarterback Joe Flacco to a contract extension, won't be willing to pay Ayanbadejo what he's looking for.

If the two sides cannot make an agreement before the March 13 start of free agency, then the Ravens' clear leader on special teams will likely find a home elsewhere. Considering that the Ravens had some trouble at kick coverage last season, his absence in 2012 could be a major blow.