The expectations have been high for Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen ever since he heard his name announced from the Bronxville home of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In 2019, the Ravens felt the significant loss of four-time second-team All-Pro selection and Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley as they trotted out Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes, and L.J. Fort in starting positions. With Queen failing to quite fill the shoes left by Mosley and the legends before him (Daryl Smith, Ray Lewis), he may find himself on the trade block heading into the 2023 season.
For three years, Queen was part of a stout LSU defense. He didn’t find much playing time in his first two seasons with the Tigers, playing behind future Pro Bowler Devin White. In his junior season, though, Queen finally found significant time on the field, starting 11 of 15 games in the team’s National Championship season and winning defensive MVP honors for the season finale win over Clemson. Despite only having started 16 of 41 career games, Queen opted to forgo his senior year at LSU and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
Queen ended up as the fourth inside linebacker drafted in the first round that year, but at this point in time, he may be the most successful of the four. All four first-round picks from that year had their fifth-year options declined, and while Jordyn Brooks has had some highly productive seasons in Seattle, the back half of Queen’s 2022 season may be the best linebacker play we’ve seen out of that draft class so far.
Queen hit the ground running in Baltimore, starting every game of his NFL career so far. In his first two seasons of NFL play, Queen put up the numbers that a starting inside linebacker should. Over his first 33 games, he collected 204 total tackles, five sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, three force fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), three passes defensed, and an interception.
Despite lighting up all the different areas of the stat sheet, analytics failed to see the hype of Queen as a top linebacker. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the young linebacker ranked 82nd out of 83 ranked players at his position in his rookie year and 71st of 86 in his sophomore season.
Queen had a bit of a breakout year in 2022. He posted career-highs in total tackles (117), sacks (5.0), quarterback hits (14), passes defensed (6), and interceptions (2). Analytically, he also slotted in at PFF’s 31st best linebacker, a significant improvement over previous years. It wasn’t just the increased experience or finally adjusting to the speed of the game at the NFL level that led to this breakout. The midseason acquisition of first-team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith paid huge dividends towards Queen’s improvement.
Smith’s addition affected Queen’s situation in more ways than just on-the-field improvement. At the conclusion of the season, a big money extension to Smith, the newcomer in Baltimore, made it clear where the Ravens’ priorities lie at linebacker. While they were surely happy to see the improvement from Queen throughout his third season in the league, Queen hadn’t quite shown enough in his first three years to warrant a fifth-year option pickup, and in the meantime, the Ravens were getting cozy long-term with Smith.
Early reports indicated that Queen could find himself on the trade block leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft. When nothing came of those rumors, it was reported that Baltimore had hopes of extending Queen. While that’s a nice sentiment, it’s not common to see two off-ball linebackers on the same team get paid big money. With Smith’s new contract averaging $20MM per year, paying Queen top dollar is just not feasible.
Queen himself spoke on the situation and claimed that he hopes to remain with the team for an extended period. In order to do that, though, Queen likely will have to take less money than he’s probably looking for in his second NFL contract. In an ideal world, Queen’s second contract could approach $8MM to $9MM per year. But with the Ravens recent deals, I think Queen would be lucky to get around $7MM. The Ravens may be able to offer something around a three-year, $20MM deal or a four-year, $25MM extension, but is that a deal Queen would consider?
Likely, Queen would see the vast improvement he made in Year 3 and opt to bet on himself in a contract year. He may see that he’s pricing his way out of Baltimore like many Ravens defenders before him. If that’s the case, the Ravens, seeing the writing on the wall that they may be losing Queen regardless, may decide that they want to get something in return for Queen as opposed to nothing.
If the two sides can’t reach common ground in extension negotiations, Baltimore may opt to trade their former first-round pick away for draft compensation. The move would also clear approximately $2.27MM of cap space, according to OvertheCap.com. It’s not the ideal scenario for either side, but both sides are going to feel they have leverage in this negotiation. Queen, having just completed the best season of his career, will want to get paid for his best football. The Ravens, on the other hand, secured one of the league’s best linebackers to a five-year deal and drafted Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson in the third round of this year’s draft. Obviously, Simpson is an unproven commodity, but if he can slot in successfully next to Smith, Queen may become superfluous.
So, that’s the situation. Queen and the Ravens both appear interested in a long-term relationship that keeps Queen alongside Smith in Baltimore. The Ravens, likely anticipating the desires of their top 2020 draft pick, have bolstered themselves with Smith and Simpson. If Queen decides to draw a line on his worth that the Ravens can’t reach, the team may be ready to move on from the ascending, young player and seek compensation for what they will eventually lose for nothing.