Decision on Jarret Johnson won't be an easy one

Sometimes, it's not tough to tell whether an impending free agent will depart and sign with a new team.

The player might be set to make more money on the open market than his previous team is able to pay him (cough, cough, Ben Grubbs) or he might have underperformed his old contract and worn out his welcome with his prior organization.

Other times, however, the decision isn't so easy.

Take the Jarret Johnson situation, for example. Johnson has been one of the Ravens' most underrated, yet valuable, players the last handful of seasons. The outside linebacker is an absolute warrior, playing through numerous injuries and suiting up for 129 straight games, the longest streak in team history. He's a smart player who's comfortable in the Ravens' complex defensive scheme and is a key presence in the locker room.

But Johnson, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, will be 31 when the 2012 season begins, and his productivity has dropped off the last two years, as he's averaged just two sacks and 67 tackles per season since a strong 2009 campaign.

Johnson has said he hopes to return to Baltimore, but obviously, his future is dependent on whether the Ravens give him a contract offer he feels is acceptable and what type of offers he receives from other teams.

The Colts, for example, might swoop in and give Johnson a healthy deal to help new head coach Chuck Pagano install his defense in Indianapolis. That would make sense on a couple levels.

If you're the Ravens, not only do you need to balance budgetary concerns with Johnson, but also the makeup of the roster. You could opt to bring back a solid, veteran player, but one who might only have a couple years left in his NFL career, or you could decide it's time to move on and slot a younger, cheaper player in at Johnson's strongside linebacker spot.

That's where the decision becomes particularly tough. The money saved by letting Johnson walk could be spent to help add a new wide receiver or offensive lineman - positions the Ravens would love to upgrade.

Johnson's been a major part of what the Ravens have built during his nine seasons in Baltimore. The question now is whether he'll be around as the organization makes another push for a Lombardi Trophy.

And that's not an easy question for anyone - especially general manager Ozzie Newsome - to answer.

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