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Ravens’ John Harbaugh wants LB Matthew Judon back, but knows it will be ‘pretty hard’

Ravens' Head Coach John Harbaugh answer questions at the team's year-end press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Friday said that he wants the team to re-sign pending free agent Matthew Judon “very much” but admitted it will be “pretty hard” to retain him.

The 27-year-old outside linebacker emerged as the team’s top pass rusher this season, registering a career-high 9½ sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Judon is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent unless he and the Ravens reach an agreement on a new contract before the new league year begins at 4 p.m. March 18.

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The Ravens can also place the franchise tag on Judon, a one-year, guaranteed deal that would pay him an average of the top-five highest-paid players at his position. The Ravens will enter the offseason with about $35 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

After Saturday’s season-ending loss to the Tennessee Titans, Judon was asked about his impending free agency and said he wants to be back with the Ravens but added, “You never know what the future holds for any of us.”

“We’re going to try,” Harbaugh said at his season-ending news conference. “Haven’t we signed eight of our guys already this year, if you do the count? So there’s no question that’s a priority for us. That’s something that’s really important to us. So we’re going to try to get as many of these guys re-signed as we can.

“Matt’s probably right at the top of the list, for sure. There’s a lot of things that can go into that, as we all know, the business part of it that agents and general managers, they deal with back and forth. I’ll stay out of that and probably Matt will stay out of that, too. We’ll let everybody do their jobs. But our goal will be to have Matt back. That’s what we’ll try to do, and you can go through all the other guys too.”

Harbaugh also commented on multiple other pending free agents, saying he wanted to keep inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, defensive tackle Michael Pierce, as well as cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.

While Onwuasor, Pierce and Smith are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, the team has an option for the second year of Carr’s contract. The Ravens can save $6 million if they decline to exercise Carr’s option before March 17.

When asked Sunday at the team’s locker room cleanout whether he wanted to return for another season, Carr, 33, said, “The ball’s in their court. I’m always going to be ready and available.”

Pierce also said he wanted to re-sign with the team but that he would sort out his free-agency plans in the coming weeks.

“It just depends what the market ends up saying,” Harbaugh said. “Once you get past the season and guys get to this point, usually the player wants to know what the market’s going to be. So we’ll see what the market is and see what we can do.”

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