January 10, 2021
The Ravens traveled to Nashville to take on the Titans in a Wild Card clash where surprisingly the visitors were 3 ½ point favorites. Baltimore suffered an embarrassing Divisional Round loss one year earlier at home and then followed that loss with a 30-24 overtime defeat to Tennessee just 6 weeks prior to this January showdown – a game during which head coach Mike Vrabel’s classless collection of enabled players desecrated the shield at M&T Bank Stadium.
Revenge dominated the collective mind of the Ravens.
During those two losses in Baltimore, John Harbaugh’s squad was out-muscled. The Titans were the far more physical team. Derrick Henry practically dribbled Earl Thomas down the field while ripping off a long run during the Divisional Playoff . Then during the 2021 regular season, A.J. Brown knocked around Ravens defenders, pinballing his way through a swarm of defenders for a go ahead 14-yard score with 2:18 remaining in regulation. The team once viewed around the league as the bullies, were bullied.
This might be the best 14-yard TD catch in NFL history. There were at least three different points here where I didn't think A.J. Brown was actually going to make it to the end zone #Titans #Ravens pic.twitter.com/ufTESvFb22
— John Breech (@johnbreech) November 22, 2020
But this Wild Card game during the 2020 postseason would be different. The Ravens were the far more physical team, limiting the Titans to 209 net yards of offense – just 88 yards after the first quarter. The Titans managed just 12 first downs on the day and probably most importantly, the Ravens seemingly ripped the heart and soul from Derrick Henry who managed just 40 yards on 18 carries. And a player largely responsible for dethroning the King, a back that averaged 127 YPG on his way to a 2,027 yard season, was none other than Derek Wolfe.
Wolfe dominated the line of scrimmage, contributing 6 tackles and the Ravens only sack of Ryan Tannehill during the afternoon. On one particular play, it appeared as if Henry would break through the initial containment with nothing but daylight and pay dirt ahead. And if not for the efforts of Wolfe on the play, it’s quite possible that Ravens QB Lamar Jackson would still be looking for his first playoff win. But before Henry could shift into his next gear, Wolfe dropped him for a minimal gain.
As the game approached its closing moments, Wolfe stood beside Calais Campbell and the two watched Lamar milk the clock to zero. Caught on NFL Sound FX, the defenders shared a mutual appreciation for each other and seemed to enjoy going to battle together. It was a scene that observers hoped would be repeated time and again during the 2021 season. When Wolfe signed a 3-year, $12M deal to return to Baltimore, expectations were high. The tandem would have at it again in 2021. Or so we thought.
Wolfe never dressed during 2021 season. After signing his new deal, Wolfe was seen at times during training camp, observing, sometimes stretching but rarely participating. He dressed for joint team scrimmaging with the Panthers in Spartanburg, SC, but injured his hip. The Ravens placed Wolfe on injured reserve to start the season, hoping for a mid-season return. Wolfe gave it a go during a practice just before the team’s bye in October but was never seen on the practice field again according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. When asked about Wolfe’s status after the bye Harbaugh shared this:
“I think Derek’s going to be out for the rest of the year, in all honesty. It looks that way. I don’t really have any details on it. I can’t say I understand it completely.”
Much like Harbaugh’s cryptic message, Wolfe’s whereabouts were shrouded in mystery. Whispers surfaced that Wolfe spent his free time hunting. Unfortunately the targeted prey was not opposing running backs or quarterbacks.
Fast forward to 2022 where the Ravens will soon be forced into a decision on Wolfe. His $2M salary for the season is fully guaranteed so if the team opts to cut him, the cap charge for Wolfe will be $3.8M (the $2M salary plus the amortized amount of his signing bonus). In other words, there are no cap savings. However, if the Ravens can find a trade partner for Wolfe, now that we’re about to enter the post-June 1 timeframe, the Ravens could save $2M in cap space. That said, the challenge then becomes finding a trading partner for a 32-year-old defensive lineman coming off hip surgery – one scheduled to make $2M.
Perhaps even more troubling than what to do with Wolfe, is the approach he took this offseason with his surgery. Despite being down for the count throughout the 2021 season, Wolfe delayed the surgery until this past January. Wolfe’s contract was injury guaranteed which meant that since he hadn’t fully recovered from surgery when the new league year began on March 16, he was guaranteed the money. If Wolfe had the surgery around the time he shut it down in 2021, he would have been fully recovered by the new league year leaving the Ravens with some options.
But Wolfe held all the cards and played them well. He knew it and the Ravens knew it. When the poker game was over, it was Wolfe reaching towards the middle of the table with arms wide open – arms eager to rake in the $2M pot. And almost as if to flaunt his short-term victory, Wolfe posted this on Instagram.
Here’s #Ravens DE Derek Wolfe in Wyoming with a 300-pound collared black bear on his back. Rehab looks to be going well.
via derek_wolfe95/Insta pic.twitter.com/zI1dNGPdyw
— Bobby Trosset (@bobbytrosset) May 25, 2022
And then there was this from March 6.
View this post on Instagram
Maybe Eric DeCosta can swing a deal for Wolfe, say for a bag of balls or maybe a 2030 7th-round conditional draft pick. Maybe he’ll even sweeten the pot and absorb some of Wolfe’s 2022 salary. Whatever happens to Wolfe and his career, he’s probably dressed in purple and black for the last time. It’s tough to dress a player you can’t trust. That’s not the way the Ravens operate. That’s not indicative of the strong culture they’ve carefully crafted.
And that’s a shame really because judging from that playoff game 17 months ago, Derek Wolfe seemed like the consummate Raven and someone who could play for the team for a few more seasons.
But instead of playing for the Ravens, he just played them.