The day after his season ended, Ravens center Bradley Bozeman reckoned with the possibility that his career in Baltimore might be over, too. His voice quavered. His jaw trembled. His eyes reddened.
Over four NFL seasons, Bozeman has started 49 games, all for the Ravens. His last might’ve been Sunday’s overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Monday, Bozeman, one of the team’s two dozen pending free agents, prepared for the possibility of a farewell.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said in an end-of-season news conference. “I’ve been very blessed. This place has been so amazing to me, everyone involved, from the ground up. From all my teammates to the coaches to — ” He stopped to compose himself, nodding his head in acknowledgment. After five seconds of silence, he continued: “To the fans, everyone. It’s been a great place for me. So just very grateful.”
There will be change in Baltimore this offseason. As defensive lineman Calais Campbell, another Raven with an uncertain future, said Sunday, that is the sport’s only guarantee. “This team will never be the same,” he said.
With the start of free agency still over two months away, general manager Eric DeCosta and his front office have time to figure out what next season’s roster might look like. The Ravens who might’ve played their last game in Baltimore will have the same window to evaluate their options.
Not every player’s calculus will be the same. Bozeman, who turns 28 in November and is coming off his best season as a pro, is seeking long-term security. Campbell, a pending free agent who turns 36 in September and graded out as one of the Ravens’ top players, according to Pro Football Focus, doesn’t yet know whether a 15th NFL season would be worthwhile.
“I haven’t been in this situation before, so I don’t know,” he said Sunday. “But I’d hate to end it this way, that’s for sure. I guess very few people get to win the Super Bowl and run off into the sunset. I guess you’re always going to be upset unless you won it all. I don’t know, but I’m just going to take my time. I’m going to enjoy my family, and we’ll just see what happens. I don’t plan to make it a long decision, but I have to go through the process.”
Campbell could be the biggest departure from a defense starting down a possible offseason makeover. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee, inside linebackers Josh Bynes, cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith and safety DeShon Elliott are among the unit’s pending unrestricted free agents. Other contributors, like defensive end Derek Wolfe and cornerback Tavon Young, could be salary cap casualties.
Some Ravens said a return would only feel right. Bynes, a veteran whose return to Baltimore and early-season emergence helped stabilize the team’s inside linebacker group, said he was “beyond interested” in sticking around.
“I feel like I have a lot of ball left in me,” said Bynes, 32, who had 76 tackles in 14 games. “I feel like I’ve proved that this season. I feel like it’s not like an, ‘Oh, I feel like I have one more in me’ kind of thing. Nah. I feel like I have two, three, four — whatever amount that is given to me. Because I put in that work in the offseason, take care of myself throughout the year and just know how to prepare myself week in and week out. …
“So I just want to continue that as long as I can, because I feel amazing. My body feels great. And I would love obviously … to be back in Baltimore. I mean, this is home for me.”
Williams has never left. A cornerstone of the Ravens’ defense since he was drafted in 2013, he’s appeared in at least 12 games each of the past eight years. This season, Williams played over half of the snaps for one of the NFL’s best run defenses. Now it’s possible he’ll be elsewhere in 2022.
“As long as they want me, I’ll be here,” Williams said. “But you never know what they’re thinking upstairs. But at this point, it’s something I can’t worry about because it’s something out of my control. So I’m not going to rattle my brain and just kind of go crazy over what could maybe happen. I’m just going to enjoy time with my family and see what happens.”
Change will come to the offense as well. Fullback Patrick Ricard, a Pro Bowl selection each of the past three years, will be an unrestricted free agent. So will running backs Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The future of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, signed through 2022, is unclear as well.
But no player who spoke Sunday or Monday better represented the offseason’s uncertainty than Bozeman. Four years ago, he arrived in Baltimore as a sixth-round pick. Now he and his wife, Nikki, have a nationally recognized charitable foundation. He has teammates he loves and a job he’s good at. He also has an agent he trusts to do what’s best for his family. That could mean he has a future outside of Baltimore.
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“It’s been an amazing journey,” Bozeman said. “Just so, so, so grateful and blessed to have called myself a Raven for the last four years. I hope it’s the next four more, but we don’t really know right now. But we’ll figure that out this offseason and see what happens.”