When Derek Wolfe was a star defensive tackle coming out of Cincinnati in 2012, he thought the Ravens would take him in the NFL draft. Instead, he landed with the Denver Broncos at No. 36 overall — one pick after the Ravens took linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
When Wolfe was stuck on a mediocre Denver team last season that he figured didn’t want him back in 2020, he considered asking Broncos general manager John Elway for a trade to Baltimore. Wolfe decided not to, out of a sense of loyalty to the only franchise he’d ever known. Denver finished 7-9, and the Ravens’ defensive line production remained a weakness.
When Wolfe, a free agent coming off an elbow injury that had ended the “best season of my career,” saw that the Ravens had agreed to a deal with Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers in the first wave of free agency last month, he was resigned to his fate. “I was kind of like, ‘Ah, maybe missed my chance there.’ ”
Wolfe did not despair. In a conference call Friday with Baltimore reporters, he was zenlike in his approach to football and life: “Everything happens for a reason, man. When things are supposed to happen, they do.” And after eight years and those three missed connections, Wolfe ended up where he thought he could’ve fit all along.
That happened for a reason, too: Brockers never signed with the Ravens. In an interview Wednesday with former Rams teammate Chris Long on the “Green Light” podcast, Brockers explained that after he underwent a physical, the Ravens’ medical staff flagged the results of his MRI and X-rays. He had sprained his ankle in the Rams’ season finale and been carted off the field, but the injury did not require surgery.
After the Ravens sent the results to a specialist, Brockers said, the deal fell through last week. And when it did, Wolfe said he called his agent immediately. He wanted to know about the Ravens’ market for a defensive lineman.
“He said, 'I'm already on the phone with them,' ” Wolfe recalled. “I was like, 'Yes. I really don't care about the money at this point. I just want to get on that team. That's a team I want to be on.’ Because I feel like if I can come in there and prove myself, that they'll extend me for a few years and I can be a part of the organization for more than just one year. And that was my goal. And it ended up working out.”
Wolfe signed a one-year, $3 million deal, with up to $3 million more available in incentives. He knows his dislocated elbow probably cooled interest leaguewide. He’s also two years removed from a procedure that he said alleviated nerve pain in his neck.
After making it through the “hardest training camp I’ve ever been through” last year, Wolfe said he felt “really good” entering the season. His production matched it. After a slow start, Wolfe had seven sacks over his final six games.
Yes, he turned 30 in February, almost a year older than Brockers and four years older than predecessor Chris Wormley, whom the Ravens traded last month to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he said he still knows how to move.
“Turn on the film from last year,” Wolfe said. “It shows you that I’m still running at 16 mph during the game. I’m still hitting those speeds, 16, 17 mph. I’m still playing really strong at the point. I’m still able to pick guys that are five, six years younger than me and put them on their back, put them into the quarterback’s laps. I think that I have a lot of football left. I don’t see any reason why I can’t play for four more years.”
Just as he was in Denver, Wolfe will be a popular quote in the Ravens’ locker room. (Whenever the NFL gets the medical go-ahead to let the Ravens back into their locker room, that is.)
Wolfe said he ate breakfast every morning in Denver with quarterback Joe Flacco, who praised the Ravens’ “big family” organization. He sought advice in free agency from former Broncos and Ravens defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was “like a big brother to me.” Said Dumervil: “You’re going to love it” in Baltimore.
Wolfe talked Friday about “eat[ing] these quarterbacks” up in defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s aggressive scheme, about looking forward to potentially beating the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes twice this season. (Denver was winless in its past nine games against its AFC West rivals.)
And he delighted in how, when enough things happened to let him finally come to Baltimore, he was joining a defensive line with Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Wolfe said. “It was just like, ‘You know what, man? I think we can have the best defensive line in the league, for sure. We could break records. We could break the rushing record for [fewest] yards per rush, stuff like that.’ Those are the kind of goals that I like to set. Sometimes you don’t reach them, but you can get close. And that helps you win. So I think that we’re going to be able to shut that run game down, and then when it comes to our offense keeping us up by 10, 20 points a game, it’s going to get ugly for these quarterbacks.”
Note: The Ravens announced several changes to their communications department Friday.
Chad Steele has been promoted to senior vice president of communications, where he’ll oversee the Ravens’ public and community relations departments.
Heather Darney is the franchise’s new vice president of community relations and continues to serve as the executive director of the Ravens Foundation Inc.
Patrick Gleason has been named the Ravens' vice president of public relations, a role responsible for the development and execution of all football-side publicity efforts.
Kevin Byrne, whom owner Steve Bisciotti in a press release called “one of the most highly regarded communications professionals in the history of pro sports,” is retiring as the Ravens’ executive vice president of public and community relations in May. An original Ravens employee who moved with then-owner Art Modell from Cleveland in 1996, Byrne will remain a consultant to the team through the 2020 season.