The Ravens released starting defensive lineman Calais Campbell on Monday, parting ways with the veteran leader in a cost-cutting move ahead of the start of free agency.
By releasing the 36-year-old Campbell, the Ravens created $7 million in salary cap space and effectively became cap-compliant before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The team was over the cap after tagging quarterback Lamar Jackson with the $32.4 million nonexclusive franchise tag last week.
In a statement, general manager Eric DeCosta said the Ravens “have not closed the door on the possibility of him returning to our team in the future.”
“Calais defines what it is to be a Raven,” DeCosta said. “He personifies professionalism, and his contributions to our organization — both on and off the field — are immense. With his passion, leadership and toughness, Calais has undoubtedly produced a Hall of Fame-worthy career.”
Campbell’s release was the Ravens’ latest move to clear cap space ahead of free agency. The team last week agreed to trade safety Chuck Clark to the New York Jets, which will create $4.1 million in savings when it’s finalized Wednesday, and reportedly restructured the contracts of defensive tackle Michael Pierce and running back Gus Edwards.
Campbell, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, played 41 games (40 starts) for the Ravens over his three seasons in Baltimore, posting 113 tackles, 11 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He graded out as the NFL’s 16th-best interior defensive lineman last year, according to Pro Football Focus, after recording 5 1/2 sacks. He was also named the winner of the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award last month.
Campbell announced last month that he would return for his 16th season, but his future in Baltimore seemed uncertain after DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine that Campbell presented a “tough decision” for the front office.
“It’s a shell game,” DeCosta said March 1, referring to the Ravens’ offseason plans. “There’s agents here, and we’re talking with different people. It’s not necessarily Calais. It’s not necessarily other guys. But we’re always looking at: How can we get better? How can we build the best roster? Understanding that the salary cap is a real constraint. And so we’ve got to do what we think is best for the club. Those are tough decisions.”
The Ravens are well positioned to handle Campbell’s departure along the defensive line. Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Michael Pierce are all proven veteran starters returning from a run defense that finished No. 7 overall in leaguewide efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. Brent Urban is a reliable backup, and Travis Jones flashed his disruptive potential as a rookie.
If Campbell does return to Baltimore — the Ravens would again be Super Bowl contenders with Jackson back — he’d be a sack away from reaching 100 for his career.
“I had plenty of opportunities to get it this year and didn’t get it done,” Campbell said in January. “So sometimes it’s like, ‘Well, man, it wasn’t that important to you because you didn’t get it done.’ I had the guy in my arms a couple times, and just missed him. So I guess it’s not the top of the list, but it’s something I really want. At the end of the day, what’s meant to be will be. So I definitely felt like I left some plays out there though this year, and that kind of hurt a little bit, but that’s football.”