The Baltimore Ravens are paying the price for winning a Super Bowl.
The NFL champions lost two key components of their defence, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, as free agency began Tuesday. On Monday, they traded star receiver Anquan Boldin, a key to their title run, to San Francisco — the team the Ravens beat 34-31 to win the championship.
Kruger went north to division rival Cleveland for a five-year, $40 million deal, while Ellerbe headed south to Miami for $35 million over five years. Steelers receiver Mike Wallace joined Ellerbe in choosing the Dolphins.
The 49ers didn’t go untouched, either. After giving up a sixth-round draft pick for Boldin, they saw tight end Delanie Walker leave for Tennessee.
San Francisco also confirmed the trade of backup quarterback Alex Smith to Kansas City, a deal that was known for weeks. The 49ers will receive the Chiefs’ second-round pick, 34th overall, in this year’s draft and a conditional pick in next year’s draft.
The 32-year-old Boldin expressed surprise that he was traded.
“I thought this was the last stop of my career but regardless of the circumstances I came here to win a Championship … and in February we came home Champions,” he said on Twitter.
Ellerbe also tweeted as he moved on to the Dolphins.
“Just wanna take time to THANK GOD for being in this position I’m in! Before I make da BIGGEST DECISION in my life I just wanna thank him!!!” Ellerbe said.
Kruger led the Ravens with nine sacks and added 2 1/2 in the playoffs and two in the Super Bowl. But he was too expensive for Baltimore to keep.
Wallace will give Miami the speedy receiver it has sought after getting just three touchdown catches from its wideouts last season.
Denver ensured that Peyton Manning will be the Broncos’ quarterback through at least 2014.
The four-time MVP’s contract called for a guaranteed salary of $20 million in 2013 and 2014 if he was on the Denver roster Tuesday. The final two years of his contract are worth $19 million each, but are not guaranteed.
Coming off multiple neck operations, Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns last season and was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He turns 37 on March 24.
Kansas City was busy finding support for Smith on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with tight end Anthony Fasano, a three-year, $12.6 million contract with defensive tackle Mike DeVito, and a three-year deal with Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel.
Teams also made cuts Tuesday. The biggest were Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo and Nnamdi Asomugha in Philadelphia.
The Bills’ starting quarterback was released 1 1/2 years after getting a six-year, $59 million contract extension. Fitzpatrick struggled after signing the new deal, and the Bills went 6-10 in 2011 and in 2012.
Buffalo has not made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active streak in the NFL. For now, the Bills’ No. 1 quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson.
Bills general manager Buddy Nix said: “Difficult decisions often have to be made and so we are moving forward. Our focus remains on adding another quarterback to our roster and we will continue to explore every option available to us.”
Philadelphia released cornerback Asomugha, who two years ago got a five-year, $60 million contract with $24 million guaranteed when he left Oakland as a free agent. Asomugha was a flop in Philly, often victimized in single coverage.
Asomugha was scheduled to make $15 million next season, with $4 million guaranteed.
Earlier, Tony Gonzalez changed his mind and decided to return to the Falcons.
The NFL’s career leader among tight ends with 1,242 receptions and 103 touchdowns said he was 95 per cent certain he would retire after 2012, but the other 5 per cent won out.
Hours before free agency began Tuesday, Gonzalez tweeted:
“The lure of being on such a great team and organization, along with unbelievable fan support was too good to pass up.”