The prize addition of the Ravens’ offseason contemplated not suiting up this season.
Five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell has asthma and welcomed a new baby with his wife earlier this year. The 33-year-old also serves on the NFL Players Association executive committee that helped negotiate rules and protocols to navigate what’s expected to be the most unique season in league history. In other words, he faces higher stakes both personally and professionally than many players weighing the risks and challenges of playing football in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The excitement of being traded from Jacksonville to a legitimate Super Bowl contender aside, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound pondered opting out of the 2020 campaign.
“I definitely considered it — you have to. You can’t play football with this [pandemic] going on and not think about the risk you’re going to put on yourself and your family,” Campbell said. “Going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and everything we have to do to keep each other safe, I feel like the risks were mitigated as much as we can.
“You can’t get rid of the risks all the way, but we definitely lowered the percentage of catching it based off of the protocols we put in place. For me, I feel like that was enough.”
The Ravens are happy Campbell felt that way after sending a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Jaguars in March to acquire the services of the gentle giant with 88 career sacks under his belt. The 2008 second-round pick from Miami was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year last season, deserving recognition for his efforts to serve others away from the field.
Wanting to improve both their run defense and pass rush, the Ravens identified Campbell as a special piece to help them get over the hump on the field and in the locker room after their shocking playoff exit against Tennessee last January. Despite the obvious challenges created by the pandemic, Campbell’s transition to his new team has been a smooth one.
“It’s been great. He’s a leader. He’s already a leader,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He knows structures of defenses — there’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. He needs to learn terminology; he’s doing that seamlessly.”
Calling coordinator Wink Martindale “a defensive genius” in a Friday conference call, Campbell wants to be a dynamic chess piece for the Baltimore front with the ability to play inside or on the edge. With coaches telling the veteran they want him to have the best season of his career, Campbell says he’s aiming for at least 15 sacks, which would eclipse his career-high 14 1/2 in 2017. A championship would mean even more to the 13th-year standout, who made it to the Super Bowl as a rookie with Arizona in 2008 and wants another shot.
But the threat of the virus is the dark cloud hanging over both Campbell and Baltimore’s championship hopes. He plans to try out the protective face shield developed to help decrease the odds of virus transmission on the field, but playing in the trenches simply isn’t conducive to social distancing.
Some level of risk will be there for someone with asthma, the same condition that prompted former Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce to opt out of the 2020 season last week.
“I don’t know how bad that’s going to affect me. I think it’s more moderate than it is severe,” said Campbell about his asthma and the potential impact of catching the virus. “I’ve been able to play football at a high level, and I haven’t really had any real issues or anything. To me, I feel like I should be fine.”