Here's how things might go with each classification of free agents:
If Birk, 35, decides he wants to play again, the Ravens are open to having him back. This one might play out for a while as Birk makes up his mind.
Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs will be tough to retain, especially since the Ravens already made a $32 million investment in Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda last August that included a $10 million signing bonus.
Grubbs might be even more expensive, particularly if a bidding war ensues when free agency formally begins March 13 on the first day of the 2012 league year.
The Ravens traditionally hold onto successful first-round draft picks in the prime of their careers like Grubbs. However, this is reminiscent of when the Ravens let center Jason Brown walk to the St. Louis Rams because the price got too high. Center-guard Andre Gurode represents a fallback plan for the Ravens at center if Birk retires. The five-time Pro Bowl selection played solidly in five starts at left guard when Grubbs was sidelined with a right turf toe injury, but was far from spectacular since he wasn't at his natural center position.
The Ravens could also opt to go young and draft a center-guard during the first four rounds of the NFL draft in April.
Veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a player the Ravens would ideally like to keep. Johnson, 30, is one of the most durable players in franchise history, but fell to 56 tackles, 2 ½ sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season.
Because Johnson is one of the tougher, higher-character players on the team and there's no proven replacement on the roster, the Ravens and his agent may be able to work something out on a short-term deal. Both sides are sufficiently motivated.
"I want to retire as a Raven," Johnson said. "I hope to be a part of it, but business is just business. It's going to work itself out." Special-teams ace and reserve inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was the first free agent the team signed when John Harbaugh took over as the head coach four years ago.
Now, Ayanbadejo's contract has expired. Ayanbadejo, 35, made only nine special-teams tackles last season while battling injuries. Most special-teams guys don't get new contracts at his age, but Ayanbadejo keeps himself in outstanding shape. Ayanbadejo is hopeful that he'll be back, but the Ravens could opt to get younger on special teams.
Starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain filled in capably when Lewis was hurt, finishing second on the team with 81 tackles to go with one sack, one interception and two fumble recoveries. McClain has been wanting to sign a contract extension with the Ravens for the past few years, but no negotiations were ever launched. A former undrafted free agent who has developed each year, the kind of young, affordable, established player the Ravens could hold onto for a relatively modest price.
Defensive end Cory Redding has emerged as a leader in the locker room and on the field. He had 43 tackles, 4 ½ sacks and two pass deflections last season.
The Ravens have a judgment call to make here: stick with the reliable Redding or pass the torch to younger players like Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger and Arthur Jones.
Reed isn't getting any younger and backup safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are both free agents.
Nakamura is valuable on special teams and has played well in spot action in the secondary. He could draw interest from other teams, but the Ravens would like to have him back at their price. Zbikowski is expected to move on after losing his starting job to Pollard.
Re-signing blocking tight end Kris Wilson and reserve linebacker and special-teams contributor Edgar Jones are lower priorities for the team, but could come back for the veteran minimum. Reserve defensive tackle Brandon McKinney had 14 tackles and one forced fumble last season. The Ravens are unlikely to spend much if anything to hold onto him.
Otherwise, Webb and Williams could draw interest from other teams. Especially Webb. Webb led the Ravens with a career-high five interceptions and 20 pass deflections during the regular season and picked off three more passes in the playoffs.
If another team signed Webb to an offer sheet, the Ravens have the right of first refusal and seven days to decide whether to match the offer. Williams had a breakthrough season with 77 tackles and 18 pass deflections. The Ravens aren't opposed to possibly signing Ellerbe to a longer-term deal depending on price.
Kindle's status is complicated by the damage he suffered when he fell down two flights of stairs and fractured his skull prior to training camp of his rookie season after being drafted in the second round.
The former University of Texas star sustained hearing damage in one ear and has had to extensively rehab to regain his equilibrium and neurological functions.
Kindle was used sparingly last season after beating the odds to get back on the field at all, appearing in two games and registering no statistics on defense or special teams. Now, his future in the NFL remains very much in doubt. The Ravens could wind up bringing him to training camp to compete for a job, but he's far from a lock to make the roster again.
Ravens hire ex-Colts boss Caldwell as QBs coach
Joe Flacco went all of last season without a quarterbacks coach after Jim Zorn was fired last winter, huddling every day with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on the practice field and in the meeting room. Now, the Baltimore Ravens have hired former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as their new quarterbacks coach. Fired by the Colts following a 2-14 season, Caldwell is an experienced hand with quarterbacks having served as the quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning for seven seasons.
"After spending considerable time with Jim over the last week, we think he will be an excellent fit with our team, coaching the quarterbacks and helping with our offense," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We believe he enhances our staff. Jim has a tremendous history coaching at the college and pro level, especially working with quarterbacks and providing help with offenses. The timing is right to add a quarterbacks coach after Cam and Joe worked so closely and well together this year. It's the right step for us now."
Cameron was retained after the Ravens made it to the AFC championship game and ranked 15th in total offense, 19th in passing and 10th in rushing.
Flacco went 13-5 as the starter last season, passing for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
Working with new receivers, Flacco's completion percentage was the lowest of his four-year career as he dropped to 57.6 percent. And his quarterback rating of 80.9 and passing yardage were the lowest they've been since his rookie season.
Flacco was outspoken in his anger when Zorn was fired.
However, Flacco and Cameron seemed to build a better rapport last season after clashing in the past over the game plan and direction of the offense. There was no buffer between Cameron and Flacco as there was in the past when Hue Jackson and Zorn were on the staff. And Cameron, Flacco and offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg collaborated together last season.
"The way that it worked out last year on offense, to me, was tremendously successful with putting Cam in there along with coach Ver Steeg and Joe in the quarterback meeting room was the right move at the right time," Harbaugh said last Friday when he announced that Cameron would return. "The quarterback and the offensive coordinator need to really be of one mind, both relationally and football-wise. Those guys being in the room together to me was a smashing success. That really helped Joe grow in this offense, and it was a direct communication every single day."
Caldwell, 57, has a proven track record with quarterbacks. And he went 26-22 in three seasons as a head coach and went to the Super Bowl in his first season before being jettisoned as Manning missed the entire season after undergoing neck surgery.
"I am really excited to work with coach Harbaugh, Cam and the rest of the coaching staff," Caldwell said. "It's a great fit for me, and I'm happy they saw it that way. I can't wait to get started with the Ravens, an organization that from top to bottom is one of the NFL's best. I'm looking forward to coming to Baltimore."
Caldwell coached the Colts quarterbacks and was assistant head coach before being elevated to head coach when Tony Dungy retired.
During the Colts' 2004 season, Manning passed for a career-high 49 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions as he set a career-high quarterback rating of 121.1. That's the second-best rating in NFL history behind Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 last season.
While Caldwell coached him for seven seasons, Manning topped all NFL quarterbacks in yardage (29,210), touchdowns (222), quarterback rating (100.5), completions (2,482) and completion percentage (66.5). Caldwell was previously the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterbacks coach, holding the same job title at Penn State.
A four-year starter at defensive back at Iowa, Caldwell was the Wake Forest head coach for eight years, and was an assistant coach at Louisville, Colorado, Northwestern, Southern Illinois and Iowa.
Caldwell was hired by the Ravens after interviewing for the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator job over the weekend with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.