As Ravens’ DL Calais Campbell, CB Jimmy Smith contemplating future, a possible escape looms: ‘There are no guarantees’

He has thought about it. Of course he has thought about it. Sunday could be the last call for Jimmy Smith to Kallis Campbell, with about two dozen Ravens possibly coming into their last game in Baltimore. Mind wanders during Steelers week as well.

Campbell shrugged his shoulders and bowed his head when asked Wednesday about a future he couldn’t predict. “You know what…” he began to say. He laughed, as though he didn’t know that a Week 18 game against Pittsburgh, after 14 years in the NFL, 138 games and 120 starts, would be his last.

“I guess you have to appreciate the possibility of its finality, you know?” They said. “There’s so much unknown right now. You’ve got to take it for what it is at the moment. And whatever it is, I guess I’m going to have to go out there and just put it on the line, leave it there and see how it goes.” But I’m feeling pretty good right now. So who knows? Maybe I’m going to do it again. You just have to see how it goes.”

Campbell said that he liked the game of football. He said he never beat the Steelers in his two years in Baltimore. They realized that if it’s for their careers, if the Ravens (8-8) don’t get the slightest miracle they need to advance to the playoffs this weekend, a worse final chapter than a win over Pittsburgh. (8) -7-1) and Ben Roethlisberger.

As the football world turns its attention to M&T Bank Stadium, which will likely be the 39-year-old quarterback’s last storm, Ravens executives are gearing up for an off-season departure that is just as important in scope. could. If the team’s season ends on Sunday, general manager Eric DeCosta will face a smorgasbord of personnel possibilities – retirement, extensions, trades – sooner than he expected even a month ago.

The Ravens’ future is shrouded in uncertainty, almost held captive by the franchise’s most pressing question: How much do they value quarterback Lamar Jackson? But even a Megadeal extension won’t neatly set up the team’s off-season dominoes, not one with a volatile free-agent market, the 2022 draft class and the uncertain future development of some aging Ravens. with.

Smith, 33, who does not sign beyond this season like 35-year-old Campbell, said on Wednesday that every year since coming to Baltimore he has been mocked that he was contemplating retirement. “But it’s really, really surreal to be honest, to really think about it,” he said. The 2011 first-round pick has played just nine games this season, being sidelined due to injuries – a bugaboo during his 11 years – and the coronavirus.

But he played every defensive snap in what was essentially a winning game on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, allowing just one catch on two goals for 6 yards. “When the time comes,” coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday, “he always shows up and plays good football.” The Ravens’ 20–19 loss made Smith feel even more conflicted about his future. “I don’t know, man,” he remembered thinking to himself. “I can probably still play.”

Smith is now the father of a growing family, and his children wonder why he is going to work again. His answer has been that this is what he has done so far.

“It’s tough because I’m a football player,” he said. “I love it. Like, this is my life, and sometimes even thinking about not playing it, I’m like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to do anything else.’ But it’s a grind, and it’s something you have to mentally prepare yourself for. [for], the older you are. ,

“I don’t know what it’s like to be free. So part of it is a little bit, I want to go the other way and be able to spend that time with my family and do all the things I’ve wanted to do.” Worked hard. To get to this place, I want to enjoy it. But the other part of me is like, Bruh, you know very well you’re a football player. You want to be in that area. So I can talk about it, but if the Ravens come up to me and say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this. What do you think?’ I’m definitely all ears.”

Campbell said he didn’t even think about whether he would play for another team. When he joined the Ravens in 2020, he said the off-season grind was made easier by the prospect of playing for the Super Bowl champions. But the Ravens won just one playoff game last year and now, in the midst of a five-game loss, have a long shot to go this year post season.

Campbell also dealt with minor injuries and the coronavirus, both relatively novel problems in careers defined by his production (six Pro Bowl appearances) to his availability (no missed games from 2015 to 2019).

“This place is definitely special, and I have so many people in this locker room that I respect, and who I want in my foxhole any day of the week,” he said. “And I know there are some people out here who believe that if the circumstances were a little bit different, and if we all had people together, we would be a tough team to beat, and I think to be part of something like That would be fun. But it’s just… I don’t know.”

Added Campbell, the Ravens’ second highest rated player, According to Pro Football Focus: “I’m not even sure I’ll have someone who wants me to play football next year.”

The Ravens’ front office considers versions of that question every off-season. This year, however, his determination could be particularly crucial to the team’s short-term championship aspirations.

As always, Ravens executives have to consider who they can hire. On offense, Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, center Bradley Bozeman, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Latvius Murray headline the team’s pending unrestricted free agents.

On defense, the potential free-agent escape is far more important: defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Justin Ellis and Campbell; outside linebackers Justin Houston and Purnell McPhee; Inside linebacker Josh Bynes; cornerbacks Anthony Everett and Smith; and security DeShawn Elliott and Anthony Levine Sr.

Other players could be released in cost-cutting measures. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who has a $9.3 million salary cap hit in 2022, turns 34 in September and could face an uphill battle to reclaim his starting job next season. Tight end Nick Boyle, who counts $7 million against the cap in 2022 and $8 million against it in 2023, and cornerback Tavan Young (hit the $9.2 million cap next year) have both suffered significant knee injuries in recent years. has been dealt with.

Then there are smaller matters – decisions on restricted free agents like cornerback Chris Westree, exclusive-rights free agents like quarterback Tyler Huntley and returning veterans who could be liable for a renegotiated contract.

Ravens have plenty of time to figure everything out. There may not be much time left in their season. When Campbell and Smith walk off the field on Sunday, their careers could be over. Or maybe, unreasonably, their postseason expectations are rising.

“Our focus … is on winning the game,” Harbaugh said. “Stuff that we can’t control, we can’t control. What you definitely don’t want to do is fix those things and then don’t do their job. So if something’s going to happen then You have to play your part. There are no guarantees.”

week 18

Steelers @ Ravens

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13, 9 radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: 5 . by Ravens