Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon will play the 2020 season under the franchise tag after the team and the Pro Bowl linebacker failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension before the July 15 deadline for tagged players to do so.
Judon will make $16.8 million on what amounts to a one-year contract, with the value derived as a compromise between the franchise tag values of a linebacker and a defensive end, according to NFL Network. The total is fully charged to the 2020 salary cap, and Judon will be a free agent next spring.
The Ravens traditionally have been able to work out extensions with players to whom they applied the franchise tag, with the most recent examples being kicker Justin Tucker in 2016 and running back Ray Rice in 2012. It hasn’t always worked that way, though. In 2008, the Ravens tagged linebacker Terrell Suggs and failed to work out a long-term deal. He played under the tag and received the franchise tag again the next season.
While both general manager Eric DeCosta and Judon had expressed optimism that a deal could be finalized, uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic and the Ravens’ future contract issues likely had an impact.
Judon led the Ravens with a career-best 9.5 sacks this past season and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after the Ravens record-setting 14-2 season. He also totaled 54 tackles, led the team with four forced fumbles and ranked fourth in the league with 33 quarterback hits.
He has totaled 183 tackles, 28.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles during his four-year career.
The failure to reach an agreement with Judon leaves the Ravens long-term situation at edge rusher very much unsettled.
The Ravens have added veteran defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and re-signed defensive end/linebacker Pernell McPhee, but all three of those players are in their 30s. Linebacker Tyus Bowser, who ranked second on the team with five sacks last season, is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and the Ravens are hoping that second-year linebacker Jaylon Ferguson can take a big step forward. He had 2.5 sacks in 14 games as a rookie.
The Ravens finished last season with 37 sacks, which ranked 21st in the league and did not select any edge rushers in their 10-member draft class.
Judon, a former fifth-round draft pick out of Grand Valley State, has evolved into one of the Ravens’ defensive leaders and earlier this spring expressed an interest in staying with the Ravens “for as long as I play.”
Judon could still sign a long-term extension with the Ravens, but that now must wait until after the season, and unless the Ravens apply the franchise tag again, Judon could explore his value on the open market of free agency next spring.
Any negotiations with Judon probably used Za’Darius Smith’s four-year, $66 million deal with the Green Bay Packers as a frame of reference, but Judon, with a more accomplished resume than Smith, was thought to be asking for a deal closer to $18 million to $20 million in average annual value.
In the past, it’s been a given that the salary cap would go up each year, giving teams some latitude in financial projections knowing that there would be increasing cap space in future years. The pandemic has altered that thinking, though, as teams struggle to forecast how an interrupted season, or one played with a limited number of fans in attendance, will affect balance sheets and the salary cap going forward.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has said in the past that his philosophy is to reward “ascending players” with contract extensions, and Judon, who turns 28 in August, would seem to fit that mold. However, in weighing the decision to commit major long-term resources to Judon, the Ravens also must look ahead to major contract issues on the near horizon.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is scheduled to be a free agent next year after playing this season under the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, and several other Pro Bowl players, including cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews and tackle Orlando Brown Jr., are set to hit free agency a year later.
Then there is quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning league Most Valuable Player who surely smiled when he heard about Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes signing a record 10-year deal that could be worth $500 million. The Ravens have a fifth-year option on Jackson as a first-round draft pick, so assuming that is picked up, he would not become a free agent until 2023. But the Ravens are expected to try to craft an extension with their franchise quarterback long before that.
All of which complicates Judon’s future.
“They’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said earlier this spring. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers.”
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