Derek Wolfe didn't sit on the open market for long, but it was long enough to make him concerned.
A lower salary cap and the NFL's love of pass rushers made Wolfe consider the possibility that he might not get signed by anybody this offseason. Wolfe had begun to mentally prepare himself for stay-at-home-dad life.
"I wasn't sure if I was even going to get the chance to play football again with the cap being the way it was," Wolfe said Thursday.
"I was like, 'Well, maybe they're 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."
Luckily for Wolfe and the Ravens, a run-stuffing, physical interior defensive lineman is still highly valued in Baltimore. Wolfe signed a three-year deal worth a reported $12 million, bringing to fruition an extended stay that Wolfe aimed for when he signed a one-year deal with the Ravens last offseason.
Wolfe's game isn't all that flashy, but it's Baltimore.
"I feel at home there, you know?" Wolfe said. "You enjoy waking up in the morning and going into that building. The coaches treat you like a grown man. … They're all about winning. That's all that really matters."
Wolfe teamed up with Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell to give Baltimore one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL last season. Wolfe still stood out with a career-high 51 tackles, and was especially crucial when Williams and Campbell were sidelined by injuries.
Wolfe has been one of the league's top interior run defenders throughout his nine-year career, and he finished with the fifth-best run defense grade at his position last season.
With departures of outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue this offseason, the Ravens could lean even more heavily on their defensive front – both to stuff the run and get after the passer.
After posting a career-high seven sacks in 2019 (in just 12 games), Wolfe dropped to a career-low one sack in 2020. Much of that can be attributed to Wolfe playing the set-up role in Baltimore, helping others get free to rush the quarterback.
Wolfe knows that his job is to get stops on first and second down to force opponents into obvious passing situations. That's when Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's blitz packages can create chaos. While losing Judon and Ngakoue will have an impact, Wolfe believes the Ravens' unique pass rush scheme will help offset the losses.
"I'm going to trust the system," Wolfe said. "I've always been the type of guy [that] I'm going to do my job no matter what, and I'm just going to do my job to the best of my ability. So, whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do it."
Entering his 10th season, Wolfe said what he cares about most at this point in his career is winning. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015 but had some tough seasons in Denver before coming to Baltimore.
Getting back into the playoffs invigorated Wolfe last season, and he helped Baltimore get a much-needed postseason win in Tennessee with six tackles and a sack. Now Wolfe wants to help the Ravens take the next step.
"The 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," Wolfe said. "Competing for a championship year-in and year-out for the next three years is going to be great."