One of the difficult decisions that the Baltimore Ravens were forced to make in order to get under the salary cap ahead of the start of the new league year after placing the nonexclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson was releasing six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell on March 13, 2023.
After being on the open market for just over a week, the future Hall of Famer and Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award recipient is slated to make his first free agent visit with the Atlanta Falcons according to a report for NFL Network insider Mike Garafolo.
Campbell has spent the last three seasons in Baltimore where he was a stalwart leader and proved he could still be a disruptive force despite being in the twilight of his career. Last season was his most productive with the team in which he appeared in 14 games and recorded 36 total tackles including 4 for loss, 5.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 pass deflections according to Pro Football Reference.
Upon his release, Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing him back at some point but in the meantime, the 36-year-old is starting to explore his options.
“While this is the worst part of the business, we have not closed the door on the possibility of him returning to our team in the future,” he stated.
Staying in Baltimore Makes More Sense Heading to Atlanta
While the Falcons currently have roughly $15.8 million more in salary cap space than Ravens according to spotrac.com ($23,431,211 – $7,569,807), they are still a ways away from being considered legit championship contenders.
At this stage in his career, Campbell is more driven by his desire and pursuit to win a championship than trying to cash in for another big to modest payday. He has contemplated retirement in each of the last two offseasons after coming up short this past season and missing the playoffs entirely the year before but was inspired to come back and play another year while covering the last two Super Bowls.
A potential reunion makes sense for both sides at the right price. The Ravens have still yet to lock up Jackson on a long-term deal but as long as he’s on the roster, he gives Campbell a much better shot to make it to Super Bowl 58 on February 11, 2024, at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada as a participant and not a broadcaster or spectator.
He is also just one sack shy of reaching the century mark in his career with 99 in 15 seasons. While Campbell would likely be able to reach that milestone over the course of a 17-game season no matter where he signs, coming back to the Ravens would almost ensure he’d be able to achieve that and contend for a title.
Campbell’s Understudy Poised for Break Out in Contrat Year
The 16th-year veteran’s stint in Charm City overlapped with the first three years of the career of Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike who is an ascending player coming off his best season to date.
In 2022, the 2020 third-round pick out of Texas A&M appeared in 16 games and recorded career highs in total tackles (42), tackles for loss (8), quarterback hits (9), pass deflections (3), and tied Campbell for the second most sacks on the team (5.5) according to PFR.
The 25-year-old will be playing in the final year of his rookie contract in 2023 and whether Campbell returns or not, is expected to take another step in his development. After seeing the significant strides he made from his second season to the third, Madubuike could be primed for a breakout season where he goes from impactful starter to being recognized as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league.
He has always had the physical tools to be a consistently disruptive force and after gaining experience, refining his rush, and soaking up knowledge beneath Campbell’s long wing, Madubuike’s nickname of ‘Madu-Beast’ could be a widely known household name even to the common fan by the end of the 2023 season.