Dannell Ellerbe had a good time after his Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. A really good time.
Not just at the victory party in New Orleans, where Beyoncè and Jay Z were guests and Ray Lewis taught Mary J. Blige the Squirrel Dance.
But for the next six or so weeks, he enjoyed the glow of being a champ.
And then, the party stopped. His Super Bowl ring now sleeps in a safe.
The reason: He wasn’t a Raven anymore. On the first day of free agency, Ellerbe signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins worth $35 million over five years.
“I just don’t see a reason to walk around and wear [the ring] because I’m trying to get one here with the Dolphins,” Ellerbe said this week.
Despite being the Baltimore’s defensive backbone during its title run – and giving the Ravens the right of first refusal on any other deal – he was only offered a below-market deal to stay.
Make no mistake: If the Dolphins win Sunday, Ellerbe will most certainly celebrate.
He’s facing the team that let him walk away.
The defending world champion Ravens are coming to town, with a whole new cast of defensive characters. Ellerbe is in Miami, Ed Reed is in Houston and Lewis is in the broadcast booth.
Even still, Ellerbe can expect more than a few pangs of sentimentality once the game arrives. He spent the first four years of his career in Baltimore, developing from a undrafted role player to a major factor in the middle.
“It’s going to be business as usual, but I never experienced that before, so it could be a little weird,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Likewise on the Baltimore sideline, where the coaches know what’s in store with the league’s third-leading tackler (he has 38 on the year).
After playing inside linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4, he’s a true Mike defender now, running sideline-to-sideline, blowing up screen passes and dropping into coverage.
“We see all the things that he ever meant to us here and even better,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It seems like he’s taken his game to an even higher level.”
Perhaps, but neither Ellerbe nor the entire group of linebackers have played to their maximum potential so far this season.
The unit was victimized by Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham in the Dolphins’ 38-17 loss to New Orleans, allowing the running back/tight end tandem to catch a combined 214 yards worth of passes and three touchdowns. Sproles ran for a score, too.
Philip Wheeler, who’s also in his first year with Miami, has particularly struggled. Pro Football Focus grades him out as the worst starting 4-3 outside linebacker in the league through four weeks.
“I’m my toughest critic, so I’m going to say I played decent,” said Wheeler, who did have a game-ending sack against the Colts in Week 2. “I could do a lot better. I plan to.”
Ellerbe, likewise, hasn’t had a ton of big plays – aside from a fumble recovery during garbage time against the Saints.
That needs to change, too, he said, and no better time than the present.
“I know I can play a whole lot better,” Ellerbe said. “It’s still a learning process. ... Coming from Ray running the show and me helping him out and now it’s me running the show and setting everything, I’m still getting used to that.
“But I know I’m only going to get better and when it starts to become second nature without any thinking, it’s really going to be an awesome time to see me play.”