A year ago, Derek Wolfe didn’t know how many teams wanted him. A dislocated elbow had ended what the defensive end called the “best season of my career,” and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic had made medical checkups difficult. Free agency opened March 18; he didn’t agree to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Ravens until 10 days later.
This year, the pandemic was problematic again. Wolfe was healthy, but a shrinking salary cap was squeezing the NFL’s middle class, pushing players into free agency and limiting the funds for others who’d normally be sure-thing signings.
“I think COVID kind of screwed me twice,” Wolfe said during a virtual news conference Thursday. He added: “I’m just grateful to be on a team that wants me.”
That would be the Ravens, again. On Tuesday, Wolfe signed a three-year extension worth a reported $12 million. The night before, he’d tweeted, “Been undervalued since day 1.”
On Thursday, he acknowledged the uncertainty of his return to Baltimore — or an NFL roster this year.
“With the cap being how it was, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Wolfe said, referring to the NFL salary cap’s fall from $198.2 million to $182.5 million this league year. “I wasn’t sure if I was even going to get a chance to play football again, with the cap being the way it was. I was like, ‘Well, maybe [the Ravens] are going to just bet on these young players and count on the draft.’ So I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But I’m really excited to be back.”
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Wolfe, 31, was one of the Ravens’ top run defenders last year, and he said that “whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it.” Coach John Harbaugh has called him one of the team’s best leaders, and, along with defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Brandon Williams, Wolfe helped anchor a much-improved run defense in 2020.
After a season spent mostly removed from his family, who stayed back home in the Denver area, he said he felt “at home” in Baltimore.
“When you walk into that building, it’s the kind of place that you want to be,” Wolfe said. “You enjoy going to work. You enjoy waking up in the morning and going into that building. The coaches treat you like a grown man. You’re not treated like a child. You’re treated like a man. And to me, they know all about winning. That’s all that really matters. Whatever they have to do to win, they’re going to do it, and I love that and I appreciate that.”
Wolfe recalled asking his wife whether he should take the Ravens’ contract offer. “Yes, absolutely,” she told him. They had what he wanted.
“Winning football games is all I really care about at this point in my career,” Wolfe said. “They money is great and everything, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth putting your body through it if you’re not competing for something. And competing for a championship year in, year out for the next three years is going to be great.”
Note: Wolfe had high praise for new Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler, who finalized his three-year deal Thursday and whom he’s known since the 2012 NFL scouting combine.
“To me, he’s one of the best pickups we could possibly get,” Wolfe said. “That guy is one of the best offensive guards I’ve ever played against. He’s strong. He’s always available. He’s a smart football player. He’s tough to beat, man. He’s just a tough player, so I’m looking forward to going against him and taking my game to another level.”