When Pernell McPhee thinks about next season, he only pictures himself playing for the Ravens.
Free agency is approaching and McPhee is not under contract for 2021. He knows the Ravens have major decisions to make at outside linebacker with Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser and Jihad Ward also set to become free agents.
Yet, when the comings and goings are complete, McPhee plans on returning to Baltimore. At this point, he's not allowing himself to consider another outcome. He left the Ravens during free agency in 2015, after spending his first four NFL seasons in Baltimore, and he does not want to leave again.
"Of course, the plan is to come back to Baltimore and continue to play some ball, help win a championship and build a dynasty," McPhee said. "That's the goal. Myself and my agent haven't really talked about it yet. I've been chilling, taking care of my body. I'll think about things, but my thought is really just on coming back."
With five Ravens outside linebackers set to hit free agency, there could be major turnover at the position. McPhee is realistic about the situation, but he doesn't like to think about losing teammates at his position who he respects.
"I'm hoping the Ravens can retain all of them, but free agency can get crazy, unpredictable," McPhee said. "But one thing you have to understand. When you're playing with guys who have been in the organization and who understand your system, it makes a difference. You want to keep those guys, because they know how to play like a Raven. I always think it's important to keep core guys – like Judon. He was around Sizz (Terrell Suggs), he was around me last year. He knows the Ravens' ways. You need to keep some of those in-house guys, those in-house dogs."
The 32-year-old McPhee proved he had plenty left last season, finishing with the most tackles (34) and most quarterback hits (15) he's had since 2015 when he was with the Chicago Bears. He did not wear down as the season progressed, and had some of his best performances in the playoffs. McPhee was a huge part of the Ravens bottling up 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry in Tennessee, and he got a sack in the season-ending playoff loss against the Buffalo Bills.
McPhee had just three sacks during the regular season, but he was a physical presence in Baltimore's run defense and provided leadership to younger players. While McPhee thought his 2020 season was solid, he believes he can be better in 2021.
"I think I had a good season on film, but on the stat sheet, I wish I could've finished more plays," McPhee said. "I've never been a big stat guy, but I'd like to get my numbers up. I've got to get more than three sacks. I've got to get at least five or six. I want my quarterback hits up. That's one of my offseason goals, to try to figure out how to get those numbers back up.
"I feel great. I finished the playoffs with my body feeling great. Actually, the playoffs were the best I felt all year and I think it showed on film."
McPhee missed only one game last season when he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for a November loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was the low point of Baltimore's season, when the Ravens fell to 6-5 and endured a coronavirus outbreak that left them severely shorthanded.
Reflecting on 2020, McPhee is proud of how the team responded by winning its last five regular-season games to make the playoffs. But he wonders what would have happened if the 2020 Ravens had played an NFL season with no coronavirus to contend with.
"COVID was a huge challenge for our team, mentally," McPhee said. "We didn't grow as a team the way we would have. We didn't have the opportunity to go out to lunch together, dinner together. I would've been taking the rookies out, 'Hey man, let's go to dinner, let's go to lunch.'
"But with COVID, they didn't want us being around each other. It was like, come to work, seeing each other on the iPad. That made it a mentally challenging year. We stuck together, which is why we got as far as we did. But it wasn't like the year before when we went 14-2, when guys were eating at each other's houses. We had that bond, that chemistry, and it made a difference."
McPhee won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2012 and he has wanted to recapture that feeling ever since. He isn't thinking about retiring and loves to compete as much as he ever has. Winning another championship is the one goal that really matters to McPhee, and he hopes to do that next season in Baltimore.
"I leave things in God's hands, but I have in my mind that I have two or three more productive years left," McPhee said. "It's going to take hard work, but I'm up for it.
"I don't care if somebody gets 25 sacks. That's a great achievement, but it's not like winning a championship. Going undefeated in the regular season is great, but if you don't win the Super Bowl, it doesn't matter. I just want to get that Super Bowl feeling again."