Matt Judon

Ravens To Let Judon, Ngakoue Walk?

After featuring two franchise-tagged edge defenders last season, the Ravens’ pass rush may be in for considerable change in 2021. A sizable chunk of their outside linebacker contributors from 2020 are free agents, and the top two may be set for free agency for the first time.

The Ravens retained Matt Judon via the franchise tag last year and traded for Yannick Ngakoue, who received the tag from the Jaguars before being shipped to the Vikings. Baltimore may let both free agents go, with Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com noting the team is expected to part ways with Ngakoue and will not re-sign Judon.

This would be quite the shakeup for the Ravens, but sticking to a price point with edge rushers is not out of character for the team. Baltimore let Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee and Za’Darius Smith walk in recent years and said goodbye to Terrell Suggs in 2019 as well. The team also did not match the Jets’ market-resetting offer for off-ball ‘backer C.J. Mosley two years ago.

It would cost the Ravens just more than $20MM to franchise Judon for a second time. Judon said earlier this year a Ravens return would need to line up perfectly, and the longtime Baltimore contributor looks set to be a first-time free agent. It will come at a key point, with the ex-Division II standout set to turn 29 this year. Judon has been a key Ravens rusher over the past four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two. Although the former fifth-round pick does not have a 10-sack season on his resume, he posted 33 QB hits in 2019.

Ngakoue moving on would be less surprising. He recorded three regular-season sacks as a Raven but played sparingly in the team’s two playoff games. This will be the former third-round pick’s first go-round in free agency. The former Jaguars standout will only turn 26 this year.

McPhee has since returned to the Ravens, agreeing to two one-year pacts after each of the past two drafts. The 10-year veteran would like to stay in Baltimore, and Hensley views that scenario as realistic. Tyus Bowser may also be in play to return on a low-cost deal. Derek Wolfe is also a free agent, but the longtime Broncos defensive lineman also wants to re-sign with the Ravens. The team would like the 30-year-old defender back as well, Hensley adds. Still, Judon and Ngakoue departing would create a major need for the team going into free agency.

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AFC North Notes: Judon, Bengals, Steelers

After being franchise-tagged last year, Matt Judon appears closer to hitting the market for the first time. The free agent-to-be has said a return to the Ravens would require circumstances to align perfectly, providing a clear indication a hometown discount will not be in the cards. Judon, though, is not ruling out a Ravens return. If the veteran edge rusher is to leave Baltimore, however, he may not be willing to sign with one of the league’s rebuilding teams. Judon said he wants to land with a winning team, per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). The 29-year-old defender joins teammate Yannick Ngakoue, who did not see full-time action for the Ravens in the playoffs, and Shaquil Barrett and Bud Dupree as edge rushers eager to cash in after being tagged last year.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • Carl Lawson is on the precipice of free agency for the first time, separating him from a few of this year’s UFA edge rushers. But the Bengals may not be willing to let him go. The Bengals are prepared to use their franchise tag on Lawson, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. While some believe the team would rather tag cornerback William Jackson, more buzz has emerged about the team keeping the four-year defensive end cog. Although Lawson only tallied 5.5 sacks last season, his 32 quarterback hits ranked second in the NFL.
  • With the cap-strapped Steelers unlikely to tag anyone this year, they would need to extend Dupree before March 17 to keep him off the market. GM Kevin Colbert did not indicate Dupree would be prioritized. “We have to adjust and know that he might be a possibility, he might not be,” Colbert said, via SI.com. “We’re never going to eliminate a great player like Bud Dupree, because we don’t know what Bud’s market is, and Bud doesn’t know what his market is at this point.” The legal tampering period begins March 15. It is possible the 2021 salary cap number will not emerge until shortly before that date, complicating matters for teams hoping to extend big-ticket free agents.
  • Despite Zach Banner suffering a torn ACL in Week 1, Mike Tomlin informed the offensive tackle he had a path to regain a starting job in 2021. “Coach T looked at me and said, ‘You are my answer for 2021, so I need you to focus on your knee, don’t worry about anything else,’” Banner said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly (subscription required). “That was the best thing that I could’ve heard.” Banner, Pittsburgh’s Week 1 right tackle starter, re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $1.75MM deal. A similar contract may be in the cards for the four-year veteran. The Steelers may be leaning toward letting Villanueva, their six-year left tackle starter, walk in free agency. One season remains on right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor‘s rookie contract.

Matt Judon: Ravens Return Would Have To Line Up Perfectly

For the second straight year, Matt Judon is set to be a free agent. The Ravens kept the standout edge rusher off the market last year by franchise-tagging him, but his tag price will go up this year and do so as the salary cap plummets. That will create issues for most teams considering a tag.

Judon, 28, was adamant last year he preferred to stay in Baltimore. When asked Tuesday about his hopes of returning to the Ravens, the five-year veteran was more open to exploring a path elsewhere.

I’d love to be back in Baltimore. I haven’t been nowhere else, so I’d love to be back in Baltimore,” Judon said during an interview with Adam Schein of CBS Sports (video link). “Just, it’s gotta line up. It’s gotta be perfect, and we’ve gotta make it work.

If I’m in Baltimore I won’t be sad. Trust me, I love it here. But if not, I’ll still love the city and it’ll be, I think, exciting and fun to play for a new organization and figure out what other teams are like out there.”

The Ravens have both Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, whom the Jaguars tagged before sending him to the Vikings (who then dealt him to Baltimore), set to be free agents. While the Ravens have let a few higher-end pass rushers walk in recent years, they do not have much under contract at outside linebacker. Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser are free agents-to-be as well.

Judon has been connected to wanting a deal that pays north of $20MM annually. With his franchise tag set to come in slightly north of $20MM, that number makes sense. However, the cap is expected to decline from $198MM to around $180MM. That will make using tags far more difficult. Judon joins fellow 2020 tag recipients Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett and Bud Dupree as edge rushers set to hit the market. That list also includes Leonard Floyd, Carl Lawson, Trey Hendrickson and Haason Reddick.

A former fifth-round pick, Judon has made back-to-back Pro Bowls. His sack and quarterback hit numbers dropped in 2020, finishing at six and 21, respectively, after he set career-high marks in 2019 (9.5, 33). Judon, however, missed two games after contracting COVID-19. Should the Ravens allow Judon to hit the market, he will have plenty of suitors.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Ravens’ Matt Judon Seeking $20MM/Year?

The 2020 Ravens became the unusual team to roster two franchise-tagged pass rushers, in tagging Matt Judon and trading for Yannick Ngakoue. A year after both edge defenders’ rookie deals expired, each is again on the verge of free agency.

Baltimore attempted to extend Judon last year and will likely do so again, given its dearth of pass rushers signed long-term. But the five-year veteran has aimed for a $20MM-per-year deal, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com notes. The Ravens are projected to be under even a $176MM cap — which may not be the new salary ceiling, with recent reports indicating the upcoming cap freefall will not be as dire as initially feared — but they have a Lamar Jackson extension to discuss and are interested in extending Mark Andrews. The latter will be in a contract year soon.

Although Judon made the Pro Bowl this season, he finished with six sacks and 21 QB hits — down from 9.5 and 33, respectively, in 2019. That said, Ngakoue registered just three sacks and three QB hits in nine Ravens games and played only 20 defensive snaps in the team’s divisional-round loss. Judon does not have a 10-sack season on his resume, however, and could well be heading into free agency at a bad time.

There are currently five edge players earning $20MM-AAV deals. Judon has no chance of venturing into Joey BosaMyles Garrett territory (north of $25MM per year), and even a deal in the Frank ClarkDeMarcus Lawrence $21MM-AAV neighborhood might be a stretch considering the circumstances. Teams opted to tag some of the top rushers on the 2020 market, so Judon will join Shaquil Barrett and Bud Dupree again soon.

With a 2021 franchise tag costing 120% of Judon’s $16.8MM salary, the Ravens are unlikely to go there — especially with a cap reduction expected. But the team again has next to nothing at this position long-term, with Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee due for free agency as well, and Judon expressed interest last summer in staying with the Ravens. Although the Ravens have let a few pass rushers land big-ticket deals elsewhere in recent years, they will need an edge plan soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

COVID-19 Latest: Bubble, Ravens, Vaccine

Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers nationwide, the NFL’s stance remains that postseason games will occur at team venues. Although no final decision has surfaced, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills and union president J.C. Tretter providing anti-bubble statements provides a good indication no one- or two-site postseason will commence. This pours cold water on an in-case-of-emergency bubble scenario the league was considering last month. But no real bubble momentum has emerged since the pandemic began.

There’s not magic about a bubble. In fact, there’s the same challenges within a bubble. Let’s be clear: COVID-19 does not fear a bubble,” Tretter said. “The vulnerability inside a bubble is the same, which is full compliance of protocol at all times. We believe that it’s all about compliance, and compliance with the things that we know avoid risk is important, whether you’re all together in an isolated environment, or whether you’re in your community.

It’s all about the daily measures that work — mask-wearing, avoidance of sick individuals, rapid reporting of symptoms, good hand hygiene, physical distance, avoiding those high-risk exposures. Those principles won’t change.”

The NBA’s Orlando bubble produced zero positive COVID tests for several weeks, however, and Major League Baseball’s multi-site bubble setup did not produce a positive case until the Justin Turner saga in Game 6 of the World Series. While the NFL has bulked up its coronavirus protocols as the season has progressed, the league going without a postseason bubble stands to bring greater chances star players miss playoff games — especially with the coronavirus environment having changed since the NBA and MLB postseasons.

Here is the latest from the virus front:

  • The Ravens are steadily seeing players return to work after testing positive for the virus. The team activated Mark Andrews and Matt Judon from its reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, putting both starters in line to face the Browns on Monday night. Both players missed two Baltimore games.
  • Ditto for James Conner. After missing the past two Steelers games, Conner is back on Pittsburgh’s active roster after his positive virus test.
  • The Panthers placed eight players on their virus list earlier this week but have since moved one of them back to their active roster. While it is unknown which members of that octet are COVID-positive, Greg Little is not. The Panthers removed the second-year tackle from their virus list Wednesday.
  • Chargers starting tackle Trey Pipkins is back on the virus list. The Bolts placed the second-year blocker on their list for the second time this season. Because he was identified as a close contact of then-COVID-positive center Ryan Groy, Pipkins landed on Los Angeles’ virus list for one day in late October.
  • The NFL is proceeding as if a vaccine will not be available to its players and staff this season. Although multiple vaccines are in the final stages, Sills and the NFLPA concur players should not be receiving vaccines at the same juncture that front-line workers or at-risk members of the population will, Twitter links via the Washington Post’s Mark Maske and SI.com’s Albert Breer. Vaccines, however, figure to have a massive impact on the 2021 season.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/5/20

Here are Thursday’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: LB Matt Judon

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

  • Signed off Raiders’ practice squad: CB Dylan Mabin

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list: S Marcus Epps; Epps tested positive for the coronavirus but is believed to be asymptomatic, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link)

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/3/20

Today’s minor NFL transactions:

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

New England Patriots

New York Giants

New York Jets

San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans

Jets Not Interested In Yannick Ngakoue

The Jets’ lack of a top-tier pass rusher has led to many observers connecting the dots between Gang Green and players like Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney this offseason. But we heard earlier this month that the club has no interest in Clowney, and Rich Cimini of ESPN.com says the Jets feel the same way about Ngakoue.

That jibes with what Cimini reported back in March, but as the Jets have since acquired multiple first-round picks while failing to address their pass-rushing needs, it seemed that there was a possibility that the club could still make a move for Ngakoue, whose disenchantment with the Jaguars has been well-publicized. And, since several Power 5 conferences have pushed their seasons to the spring — while the remaining conferences could still follow suit — New York’s 2021 first-round selections may not be quite as valuable as they normally would be.

Still, Cimini says GM Joe Douglas views his four first-round picks from 2021-22 to be vital to the club’s rebuild, and he would be loathe to part with them. On the other hand, the ESPN scribe says Ravens’ edge defender Matt Judon could pique Douglas’ interest.

Indeed, Douglas, a former Ravens scout, has made a habit of acquiring former Baltimore talent, and Cimini classifies Judon as a better player than Ngakoue — which could be up for debate — who would fit nicely in the Jets’ 3-4 front. Judon and the Ravens did not reach an extension prior to the July 15 deadline, so he will play out the 2020 season on his franchise tag.

But unlike Ngakoue’s animosity towards Jacksonville, Judon harbors no ill-will towards the Ravens. And Baltimore, a championship contender, does not have much by way of proven depth in the pass-rushing department either, so it would be surprising to see the team jettison Judon, even if it could get a first-rounder in return.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Status Of All 15 Tagged Players Prior to July 15 Extension Deadline

The clock is ticking for tagged players to sign extensions with their teams, per the league calendar.

July 15: At 4:00 p.m., New York time, deadline for any club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multiyear contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2020 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular season game.

With less than nine days remaining until the deadline, let’s take a look at where each of the 15 tagged players stand.

Already Signed Tag

*Received transition tag (vs. franchise tag)

Haven’t Signed Tag, Won’t Hold Out

Haven’t Signed Tag, Threatening Hold Out

Matt Judon Fine Playing On Franchise Tag

Nearly half the league used the franchise tag to keep players off the market this offseason. Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon was among the players tagged, but does not appear to be embroiled in a contentious negotiation with his team. While the tag often causes conflict, with teams restricting players from hitting the market, Judon is not sweating the designation. 

I’m pleased to be tagged,” Judon said, via The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec (subscription required). “I feel like only a few players get to go through this in their lifetime. As much as I want stability in the future, I’m proud of where I’m at and where I came from. … I’m pleased with how my career has been going.”

The 27-year-old defender signed his franchise tender late last month. Unless Judon files a grievance to be tagged as a defensive end, he is set to earn $15.8MM on the tag. The former fifth-round pick may well have commanded more on the market, but Judon seems content with his situation.

The Ravens have gone through some changes at linebacker over the last two years. They let edge defenders Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith walk in free agency last year, when they also did not match the Jets’ offer for C.J. Mosley. This year, Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left Baltimore via free agency. Judon represents the constant, and the Ravens — once linked to tag-and-trade scenarios involving Judon — are not expected to deal their top edge rusher.

Judon has racked up 24.5 sacks since moving into a starting role in 2017. His 33 QB hits last season ranked fourth and were a Ravens-most since the NFL began tracking this stat in 2006. GM Eric DeCosta confirmed extension talks have begun, but details are scarce about how they’re unfolding thus far. Judon joins Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey as big-ticket Ravens extension candidates — a group Lamar Jackson will headline when he becomes eligible for an extension next year.

We’ve got 30 more days to work out a long-term contract. We’re just going to see how it goes from there,” Judon said. “I can’t speak for the organization, but as far as me, I’m happy to be a Raven. I’ve got my (Ravens) shorts on right now. I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.