Toward the end of every season, veteran players are often asked if they plan to retire. Calais Campbell and Jimmy Smith fall into that category.
It takes intense weekly preparation for Campbell to play at a high level at age 35, but he still loves to compete in his 14th season and he loves doing it for the Ravens.
Campbell hopes the Ravens make the playoffs Sunday, but knows the percentages are stacked heavily against them. An impending free agent, Campbell hasn't decided if he will play another season and will cherish every moment of the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"You have to appreciate the possibility of the finality of it," Campbell said. "I feel pretty good right now. Who knows? I might be willing to do it again.
"I do know that I love being a Raven. This has been a great journey these last two years. This place is definitely special, and I've got a lot of guys in this locker room who I respect, want in my foxhole any day of the week."
Smith is finishing his 11th season and knows Sunday could be his swan song. He's coming off his best game of the year, playing every defensive snap in the 20-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17, including a huge tackle for loss that forced a key late-game fourth down. Smith said that game, after spending much of the year on the sideline, made him feel like he has more left in the tank.
Though he's been plagued by injuries again this season, Smith has a history of rising in big moments, a quality that has always resonated with Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"He's had to battle some adversities in terms of injuries and things like that," Harbaugh said. "But when the time comes, he always shows up and plays good football. He did that last week. I have a lot respect for him, admire him, consider him a good friend. Jimmy Smith has been an anchor here in the secondary in Baltimore for many years."
Smith left the door open to returning next season, but retirement is also a possibility.
"I'm not going to sit here and act like I don't think about it," Smith said. "But then again, I get out there last week and I'm like, 'I can probably still play.'
"It's tough because I'm a football player. I love it. This is my life. But it is a grind. It's something you have to mentally prepare yourself the older you get. I've been doing this my entire life. I don't know what it's like to be free. I kind of want to go to the other side and be able to spend that time with my family. Then the other part of me is, 'Bro you know dang well you're a football player and you want to be on that field.'"
If he plays another season, Smith only wants to play for Baltimore.
"If the Ravens come to me and like, 'Hey, we're thinking about this, what do you think?' I'm definitely all ears," Smith said.
Campbell Sent Urgent Texts to Former Jags Teammates
To make the playoffs, one outcome the Ravens need is for the Jacksonville Jaguars to upset the Indianapolis Colts. Campbell spent three seasons with the Jaguars and has sent messages to former teammates, imploring them to ball out against the Colts.
The Jaguars have lost eight straight and the Colts are heavy favorites, but Campbell isn't giving up hope. The Colts haven't won a game in Jacksonville since 2014.
"I've seen crazier things happen," Campbell said. "I definitely made a couple of texts to my guys down in Jacksonville. Hopefully they come through for us."
Campbell's main focus is on beating the Steelers, but he'll be looking for updates on Jaguars-Colts.
"Of course I'll be looking at the scoreboard," Campbell said. "I'm going to play my heart out, leave it on the field. Even if we had no chance I was going to do that, because I love the game. The fact that we have a chance just gives me a little bit of hope and we're going to hang onto it."
Smith Hints Alejandro Villanueva Is Mulling His Future
While talking about his own thoughts on possible retirement, Smith mentioned that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was also weighing his options.
In his first season with the Ravens after seven years in Pittsburgh, the 33-year-old Villanueva moved to left tackle from right tackle after Week 1 to replace the injured Ronnie Stanley. One of the NFL's most durable players, Villanueva has never missed a game in his career, playing in 112 straight with 106 consecutive starts.
The Ravens expect Stanley to return healthy next season after another ankle surgery, and starting right tackle Patrick Mekari signed a contract extension last week. Smith indicated that Sunday's game against his former team would have special meaning to Villanueva.
"Just walking in today I was talking to Villanueva, and he's kind of not sure where he's at with it (next season)," Smith said. "You can sense he kind of cherishes this last (week)."
Mark Andrews Wins Ravens MVP and 'Good Guy' Awards From Local Media
Having his best season, Mark Andrews keeps winning honors. He has been voted Ravens Most Valuable Player and "Media Good Guy" for the 2021 season by the Baltimore media and the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.
This is the first time in the 19-year history of the awards that a Raven has won both honors in the same year. Andrews set the franchise single-season receiving record this year, and he leads all NFL tight ends in receiving yards (1,276) and receptions (99). Andrews needs 141 yards in the season finale to break Travis Kelce's single-season receiving mark for any tight end.
Andrews has also been one of the team's most accommodating players to the media since his rookie season.