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Baltimore Ravens: Is Nick Barnett an Option at Inside Linebacker?

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COMMENTARY | The Baltimore Ravens have spent the 2013 offseason tirelessly rebuilding a championship team that has undergone a rather substantial makeover.

Through the loss of several key veterans to retirement and free agency, the Ravens have dealt with the unfortunate problem after building one of the league's best roster: finding cheap players to combat with minimal salary cap space.

The Ravens have almost completed the roster that will be heading into July's training camp, but could there be another veteran added?

One option is inside linebacker Nick Barnett.

Even before linebacker Rolando McClain retired a few weeks ago, the Ravens still had a lack of depth and talent at the inside linebacker position. Running a 3-4 defense, depth at the position is more important than anything, as the Ravens use two inside linebackers instead of one.

They helped improve the unit by adding Kansas State's Arthur Brown in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but with McClain now gone, Brown is the only new addition. Veteran Jameel McClain appears to be primed to enter training camp fully healthy for the 2013 season, and he and Brown are currently slated to be the team's starting inside linebackers when Baltimore travels to Denver for opening night.

After Brown and McClain, however, there's a whirlwind of uncertainty.

Third-year linebacker Josh Bynes proved to be a valuable commodity in a rotational role and as a special-teamer for the Ravens during their 2012 postseason run, and right now he has a legitimate shot at competing for major playing time in 2013. Bynes is joined by players such as Albert McClellan, Bryan Hall (a defensive tackle convert), Nigel Carr and Adrian Hamilton as the competitors for the backup roles.

Outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and John Simon may also earn some reps at inside linebackers during training camp.

The problem that the Ravens face right now is that there isn't much talent after Brown, McClain and Bynes. That is where Barnett comes into the mix.

The 32-year old veteran has not experienced overwhelming interest during free agency, and the fact that he is still on the market may be a testament to the fact that NFL teams are not overspending on veteran free agents like they used to.

Make not mistake about it: Barnett is still capable of contributing, albeit maybe not as a starter.

Barnett has played in 139 games in his 10-year career and has started every one. However the lack of interest by teams may lead to the conclusion that Barnett may have to shift to a rotational role in 2013. That is exactly what the Ravens need, and he is still capable of competing for a starting job, which is a plus.

Brown will likely easily win one of the starting jobs - either on the strong or weak side - but McClain's starting role could be the one that's in jeopardy. His return from injury could lead to less reps to start training camp, which could open the door for a backup to emerge. That could give Barnett a chance to assert himself if he is signed by the Ravens before training camp.

At this point, Barnett could likely be had for a near-minimum deal, which is all the Ravens would be able to offer.

He would provide instant depth and talent to a group of linebackers that desperately needs both of those traits.

Barnett spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, starting in all 32 games and recording 5.0 sacks. His tackle totals have slowly declined, but he still managed to post 72 tackles in 2012. He also forced a career-high three fumbles last season and recorded three interceptions.

Signing Barnett should by no means be a priority for the Ravens heading into training camp, but it should at least be an option that could be visited, if it hasn't been already.

Kyle Casey is a Journalism student at Towson University in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and contributes to Russell Street Report, a Baltimore Ravens blog.

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