Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon will play the 2020 season under the $16.8 million franchise tag after he and the team failed to agree on a long-term extension by the NFL’s 4 p.m. deadline Wednesday.
Judon and Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta had both said that they hoped to reach a deal. But the Pro Bowl linebacker sought his payday in a market paralyzed by uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic and teams’ fears of a reduced salary cap in 2021.
Few of the 15 players tagged by their teams were expected to sign long-term deals before the Wednesday deadline. That group included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. But there were exceptions; the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to a four-year, $85 million extension with defensive tackle Chris Jones on Tuesday, and the Tennessee Titans reached a four-year, $50 million extension with running back Derrick Henry on Wednesday.
In a video call with Baltimore media members last month, Judon said that he felt no anxiety about playing under the franchise tag, a constriction that often leads to tension between top players and front offices.
“I’m pleased to be tagged,” he said. “I feel like only a few players get to go through this in their lifetime.”
The Ravens have generally used the franchise tag as a precursor to reaching long-term deals with core players. Only one of the previous six players they tagged, offensive lineman Wally Williams in 1998, failed to sign an extension with the team. Two others, cornerback Chris McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs, were tagged twice before agreeing to extensions.
It’s not clear that will be the path for Judon despite his stated desire to remain in Baltimore and the team’s improving salary-cap outlook. The Ravens will have a crowded to-do list when it comes to negotiating extensions over the next two years. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is headed for free agency in 2021, with cornerback Marlon Humphrey up the next year and quarterback Lamar Jackson — the greatest and costliest priority of all — on tap for 2023.
“I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said in June. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. So, they have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well.”
On the other hand, the Ravens don’t have another edge rusher qualified to step in for Judon, who led the team with 9½ sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 33 quarterback hits in 2019. The former fifth-round pick is a durable player who has improved every season and become a key voice in the locker room.
The Ravens did not draft an outside pass rusher this year, and second-year linebacker Jaylon Ferguson remains a developmental project, so the 27-year-old Judon will remain a singularly important component to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations for 2020.
When he was asked about Judon during his most recent video press conference, Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism that the team will re-sign many of its key players.
“We’ll keep as many guys as we can,” he said. “I am very optimistic about the fact that we have a good cap situation going forward. We have not been in good cap shape for the last six, seven years. Every year we’ve been behind the eight-ball with the cap, and that’s just the way it was. This year was a little better. Next year will be a lot better. With that, we’ll have to sign guys, but we’ll have money, too.”