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Last year it was safety Dawan Landry.
Before, it was linebackers Bart Scott, Ed Hartwell and Jamie Sharper.
All are examples of Ravens defenders – particularly at linebacker – that have left Baltimore in free agency for paydays elsewhere.
In the mind of NFL Network analyst Jason La Canfora, that could be an option for outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who is an unrestricted free agent after nine years in Baltimore.
“He’s going to be a prized asset on the open market,” La Canfora said. “Ravens defenders always are.”
La Canfora pointed out, however, that a players’ decision to leave Baltimore hasn’t always worked out for them or the team that signed them.
Landry went to Jacksonville and endured a five-win season. Hartwell played in 13 combined games over two seasons and then leftthe NFL. Sharper was a consistent three-year starter for Houston, but his career ended four seasons after departing the Ravens.
“Because of the pedigree of that defense and how good that film looks, teams are interested,” La Canfora said. “Could it be a case where some other team looks at him as the last piece to put them over the top? It’s conceivable.”
The Ravens stockpiled talent at outside linebacker the past few years. They drafted Paul Kruger in the second round in 2009, and took Sergio Kindle with their top pick in 2010.
Kruger took a big step forward this past season, playing in all 16 games and notching 5.5 sacks. He hasn’t shown the same run-stuffing, edge-setting abilities Johnson has, but also hasn’t been asked to do that much in games because of Double-J.
Kindle hasn’t seen regular-season action due to the head injury he sustained before his career could get off the ground.
“They’ve tried to prepare for the day that maybe Jarret would move on, but they value him, and if it makes sense within their structure, they’ll [re-sign him],” La Canfora said.
“But we’ve seen in the past that teams will overpay a little bit for some of the Ravens defenders and see them move on.”
Johnson recorded 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks this past season. He has played in a Ravens franchise record 129 games, and is highly regarded in the locker room. He’s close friends with fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The day after the AFC championship loss, Johnson said he would like to retire a Raven. At the same time, he’s 30 years old, and understands the business of the NFL.
“Sometimes for them, it’s their last payday, so you can’t expect them to take less,” La Canfora said. “If somebody out there is making him the apple of their eye in free agency, and they’re wining and dining him [like linebacker Bart Scott and the New York Jets], sometimes you have to wish the guy the best.
“You look at the best teams in the league: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New England. They know when it’s time to cut the cord. If a guy’s outside price point is surpassing what you think it’s worth, as much as you love them, you have to let them go.”