Tough Decisions at D-Line

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While a potential shake-up of the Ravens' wide receiving crew will get the lion's share of the attention this offseason, another key group could also see changes.

The Ravens' defensive line has two unrestricted free agents in defensive end Dwan Edwards and defensive tackle Justin Bannan and there is a possibility that the Ravens could part ways with veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce.

In essence, a limiting final offseason under the Collective Bargaining Agreement could push the Ravens to make tough decisions and cut salary from the defensive line if they are looking to upgrade at other positions.

"This is a part of the business," Bannan said. "It sends you a lot of mixed feelings. Everything is uncertain, and sometimes it's tough to live that way. You don't know where you're going to be or if you're going to be here. There's going to be a waiting game that comes with this. I'm going to go sit on a beach for a while and contemplate it."

However, Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens would like to bring back all three players next year. Whether that will be financially suitable for the Ravens or their free agents remains to be seen, however.

"We're going to make a big push to do it," Harbaugh said. "I think the defensive line is one of the real strengths of our team, and we want to build on that."

The defensive line finished with 32 sacks this season under first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who stresses getting pressure on the quarterback from the front four. The Ravens had 33 sacks last year.

After missing all of 2008 due to injury, Edwards, a former second-round draft pick, slid into the starting defensive end position in Week 6 and had a productive season with 50 tackles and one sack.

The run-stuffing Bannan has proven to be a valuable backup. In 2008, he started 15 games with Kelly Gregg on Injured Reserve and this year he started two games when Haloti Ngata went down. But Bannan, 30, could be more expensive than a younger option at this point of his career.

"In a perfect world, I wish our defensive line would stay intact exactly the way it is," Bannan said. "It's a group of guys I think are irreplaceable – how we play together, how we work together, the friendships we have."

Even though he's still under contract for one more year, Pryce could be unloaded. Pryce is owed a reported $4.5 million next year, a healthy amount considering he slipped behind Edwards on the depth chart midway through the season and became a rotational pass-rushing specialist.

It wouldn't be an easy decision however, as Pryce statistically had his most productive season since his first year with the Ravens in 2006, when he logged 13 sacks. In 16 games this season, the 13-year veteran posted a team-high 6.5 sacks, 31 tackles and one forced fumble.

"Trevor can still play – no question about it," Harbaugh said. "Trevor can still rush the passer, he's a solid run defender, he's a tremendous leader, and he knows the defense inside and out. Trevor's got a few more years left in him, no doubt."

But Harbaugh was asked specifically if the Ravens could keep both Pryce and running back Willis McGahee, another non-starter with a sizeable contract. And that's when the Ravens' situation becomes a bit more unclear.

"I can't read the future, so I don't know how that's going to shake out," Harbaugh said. "I think those are conversations we're going to have over the next months, and specifically, next week when we have our personnel meetings.

"But, from a football coach's standpoint, I know one thing: They make our team better, and that's a pretty good place to be with those two guys on your team."

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