Known for prioritizing compensatory picks, the Ravens have let a number of front-seven pieces walk in free agency over the past several years. Justin Madubuike may have become too valuable to join this brigade of defender defectors.
Long rumored as a player the Ravens wanted to extend, Madubuike played out his rookie contract. The monster walk year the young defensive lineman put together appears to have moved him beyond the caliber of player the Ravens feel like they can afford to lose. Baltimore is expected to use its franchise tag on Madubuike if no contract agreement emerges over the next five weeks, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley notes.
The Ravens extended Broderick Washington before the season. The fourth-year D-lineman inked a three-year, $15.75MM accord; Madubuike has since soared well beyond this price range. The defensive tackle tag is projected to come in around $19.7MM. Projected to hold more than $13MM in cap space, the Ravens will have some work to do in order to carve out enough space for a tag and sufficient funds in free agency.
Baltimore made the Lamar Jackson tag work, carrying that lofty number on its books until the superstar quarterback’s late-April extension. That path will make Madubuike’s price easier to stomach. The Ravens also tagged Matt Judon in 2020, providing a clearer roadmap.
While the Ravens tagged Judon, they let him walk in 2021. Judon joined the likes of Za’Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley, Yannick Ngakoue and Pernell McPhee in departing Baltimore for big-ticket contracts elsewhere over the past decade. The Judon defection stung the Ravens, who have relied on veteran stopgaps on the edge for the past three years. The team’s Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy additions proved wildly effective this year, but both are free agents once again. One season remains on Odafe Oweh‘s rookie contract.
A third-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2020, Madubuike has been a starter for the past three seasons. He smashed his career-high totals in sacks and QB hits this season, finishing with 13 and 33 in those categories to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush and become the first Raven with double-digit sacks since Terrell Suggs in 2017. Madubuike tied an NFL record by recording at least a half-sack in 11 straight games this season, becoming an integral part of Mike Macdonald‘s defense — one that ranked first in points allowed.
It is certainly possible Baltimore opts to make Madubuike (5.5 sacks, nine QB hits in 2022) prove it on the tag in 2024. That would, of course, require the team to carry the tag cost on its payroll throughout the season. Jackson’s extension dropped his 2023 cap number from $32.4MM to $22.15MM. The Ravens also have Patrick Queen weeks away from free agency. The team has Roquan Smith and Marlon Humphrey tied to top-market contracts at their positions, with Jackson now in the $50MM-AAV club. Marcus Williams is also tied to an upper-echelon safety accord, though Kyle Hamilton‘s rookie deal could run through 2026 via the fifth-year option. This year’s window to apply franchise tags runs from Feb. 20-March 5.