Eric Weddle

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Ravens' historic 2018 defense preparing to look historically different in 2019

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Ravens' historic 2018 defense preparing to look historically different in 2019

The Baltimore Ravens defense is historic.

Their consistent success over 22 seasons has been a staple of the organization since their legendary 2000 Super Bowl team and their 2018-19 roster proved no different.

Ranked as the NFL's No. 1 defense for just the second time in team history (2006), the squad allowed 292.2 yards per game and permitted the league's second-fewest points per game (17.9) behind the Bears' 17.7. 

But 2019 could bringing a different looking Ravens defense. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Brent Urban and linebacker Za'Darius Smith will all become unrestricted free agents. The Ravens could also free up a $21 million in cap space by parting ways with safety Eric Weddle and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.

Not only is that a boatload of talent that acts as the nucleus to the defense's success, but a plethora of leadership.

"I’m still at a loss for words, honestly, especially [when thinking about] ‘Urb’ and ‘Sizz,’"defensive tackle Michael Pierce said on what 2019 could bring. "They’ve been here since I’ve been here. They’re like brothers to me. ‘Sizz’ is an amazing leader. I couldn’t imagine being here without him. I’m a little at a loss for words for that. Hopefully, we can get those guys back.

Drafted by the Ravens in 2003, Suggs is the team's all-time leader in sacks and has played more games than any player in Ravens history. He finished his 15th season with 34 combined tackles and seven sacks and is undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer.

"I would love to be a Raven for life," Suggs said after the team's 23-17 loss Sunday. "I’m healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. I would love to be a Raven for life. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between here and March. So, we’re just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I’ll be lining up for somebody next year.”

Mosley, who was the team's first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, finished out his rookie contract and enters the offseason with his future with the Ravens in question. In those five season, the linebacker posted 579 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, 35 passes defended and earned four Pro Bowl nominations. His Week 17 fourth quarter interception off of Browns' Baker Mayfield launched the Ravens into the postseason for the first time in three years. 

Weddle has already decided that if his future doesn't involve the Ravens he will be calling it a career after 12 seasons. 

“If they want to go in a different direction, I’m not going to play for another team," Weddle said. "That’s not where I’m at in my career. It’s either play my last year here, and that’ll be it and enjoy it, or this has been it. It’s pretty simple. I’m a simple kind of guy.”

Eric DeCosta has his hands full in his first season as general manager with a defensive legacy lead by Ozzie Newsome up in the air. Parting ways with a veteran like Terrell Suggs would certainly spell the end of an era with Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and Ed Reed long gone

While those returning can't imagine their No. 1 defense without its core leaders, there's a new leader emerging on the opposite side of the ball. 

“I think a leader is kind of what other people think of you," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said on if he's prepared to help lead the defense.

"I don’t really know if it’s something [that] you can just say, ‘I’m going to be a leader this year.’ But, you have a rookie quarterback that led us to a lot of wins. I think [Lamar Jackson] is a natural leader in itself, so whatever way it falls, I always know we’re going to have Lamar. He definitely was emerging as a big leader on this team.”

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Eric Weddle's future is simple: Ravens or retire

Eric Weddle's future is simple: Ravens or retire

It's Ravens or bust for safety Eric Weddle.

With one year remaining on his contract and set to make $6.5 million, the Ravens could cut him in the offseason and free up $7.5 million in cap space. If the organization decides to go that route, Weddle is planning to call it a career. 

“If they want to go in a different direction, I’m not going to play for another team," Weddle said Monday. "That’s not where I’m at in my career. It’s either play my last year here, and that’ll be it and enjoy it, or this has been it. It’s pretty simple. I’m a simple kind of guy.”

A second-round pick in 2007 by the then San Diego Chargers, Weddle spent his first nine seasons with the organization before a bad breakup sent him into free agency and eventually with the Ravens on a four-year, $26 million deal. 

In three seasons, the 34-year-old has 220 combined tackles, 69 assist, 24 passes defended and 10 interceptions. In 2018, Weddle finished third in tackles (68) and earned his third straight Pro Bowl with the Ravens while helping lead the leagues top-ranked defense. 

“It definitely would be a big loss," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said on the possibility of being without Weddle next season. "But, he’s not just a player. I think I’ve said before, he’s like having another coach back there. Losing a leader like that and a guy that can really lead a secondary without even really having to say anything, just doing his job, would definitely be a big loss.”

Weddle has undoubtedly been a big piece in the Ravens' defense puzzle, one that could look very different in 2019 with Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brent Urban and Za'Darius Smith all becoming unrestricted free agents. 

"I’m going to go speak to Eric [DeCosta] and see what he sees with myself and the team," Weddle added. "If he wants me back, I’m here. If not, then it’s all good. I understand it, and I’ll just ride off into the sunset. I’m good. I still have a desire to play, and I feel that I can still affect the game in dominant games. But either way, I’m good with whatever." 

If the Ravens do move on from the veteran, they still have Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., Chuck Clark and rookie DeShon Elliott at their disposal. A free agent veteran with the same type of leadership skills could also be an option for the team. 

After potentially playing his final game in a 23-17 Wild Card loss to his former team Sunday, the veteran reflected on what's been the happiest span of his career. 

"It’s a special, special place to play football," Weddle said on his time in Baltimore.

"It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my career, coming to work every day for this organization, so to be able to put on this jersey and represent this organization and the city that welcomed me with open arms three years ago has always been on my mind to try and make them proud. I always felt I was meant to be a Raven, and hopefully the people understand that I tried to live that out, for sure.”

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Sunday's loss to the Bengals cost Ravens safety Eric Weddle $1 million

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Sunday's loss to the Bengals cost Ravens safety Eric Weddle $1 million

2018 didn't start how Eric Weddle probably wished it would.

To add insult to injury, the Ravens' heartbreaking loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday cost the safety $1 million dollars.

Yup, you read that right. $1 million. 

Weddle's contract states that if the Ravens made the playoffs and the 11-year veteran made the original Pro Bowl ballot, he would get an additional $1 million.

RELATED: RAVENS 2018 OPPONENTS REVEALED

Well, Weddle was voted to his fifth Pro Bowl in December and the Ravens had a 93.7 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into Week 17.

All the Ravens had to do was get one win at home or have either the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans lose.

It looked as if Weddle would be getting a big ol' check in the mail until the last 44 seconds of Sunday's game when Andy Dalton connected with Tyler Boyd on fourth and 12 for a 49-yard touchdown. A touchdown that lifted the Bengals to a 31-27 victory. Both the Bills and the Titans won their Week 17 games, pushing them to the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds in the AFC playoff picture and knocking the Ravens out.

All that was left for the Ravens was heartbreak and anger. For Eric Weddle, a check that would never get mailed.

The 32-year old wasn't even aware of the incentive until GM Ozzie Newsome reminded him of it ahead of their Week 16 matchup to the Colts.

Weddle, who is in his second season with the Ravens, didn't think the incentive kicked in until the third and fourth years of his contract. He signed a four-year deal back in March of 2016 worth $26 million.

RELATED: THREE RAVENS EARN 2018 PRO BOWL SPOTS

"Will it make me play any harder? No," Weddle said prior to Sunday's loss. "I just hope everything plays out the way it's supposed to."

Sadly, it ended up being what feels like a very bad dream. 

In 2017, Weddle had 33 combined tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 6 interceptions and 1 touchdown.