INDIANAPOLIS — When defensive lineman Calais Campbell announced last month that he’d be returning for his 16th NFL season, it seemed likely that it’d be with the Ravens.
Campbell’s a team leader in Baltimore. He’s under contract through 2023. And the 36-year-old remains one of the NFL’s better interior defensive linemen, grading out as the league’s 16th-best player at that position last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
But with the Ravens facing a financial squeeze as they decide on quarterback Lamar Jackson’s future, executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday that Campbell’s future would be part of a “tough decision.” Campbell has a $9.4 million salary cap hit next season, the fifth highest among Ravens players currently under contract. To lower that hit in 2023, the Ravens and Campbell could agree to an extension contract. They could also trade or release Campbell, whose contract would then count just $2.4 million against the cap.
“It’s a shell game,” DeCosta said, 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.”
If Campbell doesn’t return to Baltimore, the Ravens’ defensive line would likely lean on Justin Madubuike, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, and Michael Pierce, who missed most of the past season with a torn biceps and is another potential salary cap casualty. Also returning are Broderick Washington, Travis Jones and Brent Urban, who helped bolster a run defense that finished No. 7 overall in leaguewide efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
Campbell is a sack away from 100 career sacks. If he reaches the milestone next season, it might not be with the Ravens.
“Every season, that new league year opens up, you know that you’re going to take on some water and you’re going to have to make some tough choices about the team because we’re not just trying to win this year,” DeCosta said. “We’re trying to win four years from now as well.”
Kyle Hamilton’s versatility
Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton emerged as one of the NFL’s top rookies last season, flashing his ability as a slot defender who could blitz, stop the run, and hold up in coverage against wide receivers and tight ends alike.
But coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that Hamilton is better suited elsewhere: as a traditional safety who can move around the defense, including the spots at which he shined in 2022.
“We’re not going to be a defense that’s static,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys are going to be playing different positions, we’re going to disguise, we’re going to blitz. He’s capable of doing pretty much everything. He [Hamilton] covers tight ends really well. He even covered slot receivers pretty well this year, man coverage. That’s pretty unique for a safety. ... I just think it gives us great flexibility. It leaves room for a third or even fourth safety in the mix.”
With Hamilton, whom Harbaugh said underwent minor wrist surgery this offseason, poised to partner with safety Marcus Williams in the Ravens’ secondary, Chuck Clark’s days in Baltimore seem numbered.
Clark, a team leader, defensive signal-caller and durable starter, has a $6.7 million cap hit in 2023. If the Ravens trade or release him, they’d save $3.5 million in space. Backup Geno Stone proved his value as a part-time starter last season after Williams missed time with a wrist injury, and he can be re-signed on a team-friendly deal as a restricted free agent.
- DeCosta said he’s had a “few conversations” with the agent for starting cornerback Marcus Peters, a pending free agent who has expressed a desire to remain in Baltimore. “Marcus is a great friend. He and I have communicated. That’ll be ongoing. But that’s a guy that when you talk about true Ravens, guys that have done a lot for your team, for me, for the Ravens over the last four years, Marcus is on that list.”
- The Ravens signed outside linebacker Justin Houston in July 2021, then re-signed him almost exactly a year later. With Houston set to hit free agency again after a 9 1/2-sack season, DeCosta said a re-signing could happen on the same delayed timeline. “He had a great season for us, came up big in some games. He’s a great leader, a hard worker. The last two times we signed Justin, it was later in the process. I can probably say that would be the case this time as well with some of the unknowns that we have and what we’re faced with, roster-wise.”
- DeCosta said wide receiver Rashod Bateman is “doing really well” as he recovers from surgery on a Lisfranc (foot) injury, which ended his season in early November. DeCosta said the injury could’ve worsened had Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick, continued playing. “I know he’s very, very excited, champing at the bit to get into the offseason program. We’re very excited about him as a player. I can’t wait to see what he can do this year.”
- Asked whether Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken have spoken yet, Harbaugh said that, “realistically, there’s plenty of time for that. The important thing right now probably is to focus on the business part. I think the football part of it’s going to be fine. I’m not worried about that at all.”