Tuesday March 17, 2015
The Case for Dannell Ellerbe
While I have been a big fan of what the Saints have been able to get done this off-season so far, I lauded the Graham trade, I can’t say that I completely understood taking on the outrageous contract of a middling linebacker who is entering the last stages of his prime.
Granted, there’s not a ton of tread on Ellerbe’s tires, he only became a full-time starter in 2012 for the Baltimore Ravens following Ray Lewis’ torn triceps injury. While he was largely a disappointment in Miami, that was only because of such lofty expectations following a solid stint as the starter for a Ravens squad that won the Super Bowl.
If you look at his stats for the Dolphins in his first full season as a starter, they’re nothing to sniff at. Ellerbe had 101 tackles, two fumble recoveries, and a sack to go along with two interceptions and five pass deflections. While those numbers aren’t outstanding, they’re more than serviceable.
Compare that to previous starter Curtis Lofton in 2014. Lofton has the edge in tackles and forced fumbles with 145 and two respectively. Lofton gained a reputation as a two-down linebacker, especially in his time with the Saints, though. That reputation certainly shows in game tape as well as in the stats: last year Lofton had one pass deflection, no interceptions and no sacks.
What does this all mean? The Saints replaced a middling linebacker who gets a lot of tackles but is a non-factor on third down to a legitimate, and potentially above average, three-down linebacker who could be right in the midst of his prime after 7 years in the NFL. At a discount even, compare Lofton’s cap hit of 9.25 million to Ellerbe’s arriving cap hit of 8.5 million.
So even without the restructure, the Saints were arguably in better shape at the inside linebacker position. Now early this morning Evan Woodberry of nola.com reported that Ellerbe took a pay cut of 7.4 million and is now only on the Saints books this year for 1.2 million. There is very little guaranteed money on the contract with the Dolphins eating the dead money of Ellerbe’s rich free agent contract from two years ago.
What this ultimately amounts to is a no-obligation one-year prove-it deal for a potential upgrade at a position of need. A player that can play all three downs for the Saints, as long as he remains healthy, still with some upside as he is limited in starting experience and could grow into the role.
Let’s not forget Ellerbe had his best season in a 3-4 type of defense as an inside backer for the Ravens in 2012, he will fill a similar role with the Saints and some, including Dolphins brass, believe he may have been miscast as an MLB in their 4-3 defense. (They moved him outside at the start of the 2014 season)
So saving money, getting a potential upgrade at a position of need, getting younger and maybe a little more well-rounded on defense, what’s not to like about this move? Personally, I think it’s a coup.
What do you think? Comment below, let the conversation flow.