Justin Madubuike

Ravens Extend DL Justin Madubuike

Two franchise-tagged players have signed extensions this week. Justin Madubuike will follow Jaylon Johnson. The Ravens now have their breakthrough defensive tackle locked down.

After a monster contract year, Madubuike agreed to terms on a four-year, $98MM deal, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. The contract includes $53.5MM guaranteed at signing and $75.5MM in total guarantees. Both the guarantee numbers represent highwater marks for NFL interior D-linemen, which almost definitely will affect the free agent market soon.

Like Johnson, this represents a staggering value spike for a player who was not on the radar to score a contract in this neighborhood a year ago. But Madubuike stepped up in his platform year, registering a Ravens-high 13 sacks — the most by a Raven since Elvis Dumervil in 2014 — to power a No. 1-ranked defense. The Ravens viewed Madubuike and Broderick Washington as extension candidates last summer; both are now signed, with Madubuike breaking new ground for a Baltimore D-line contract.

Madubuike, 26, eclipsed Quinnen Williams‘ marks for full guarantees and total guaranteed cash. The Jets standout received $47.8MM at signing when he agreed to his $24MM-per-year deal last July, with Gang Green guaranteeing the former top-five pick $66MM in total. Those represented incremental gains from the previous position standards; Madubuike’s numbers create a clear gap between Nos. 1 and 2 on these lists.

The Ravens did not go near Aaron Donald‘s $31.7MM-per-year salary, which remains the runaway leader for AAV at the position. But they navigated this gap by showing a willingness to guarantee a greater portion of Madubuike’s contract. That undoubtedly pushed this process past the finish line. This agreement will reduce the $22.1MM cap figure on Baltimore’s payroll as a result of Tuesday’s tag and bring some good news for Chris Jones and Christian Wilkins as they prepare to — barring 11th-hour agreements — head into free agency.

Like Chicago, Baltimore now has high-end extensions allocated to players on all three defensive levels. Madubuike joins Roquan Smith and Marlon Humphrey in that regard. The Ravens have signed off on the Smith payment — still an ILB AAV record — and Madubuike pact within a 14-month span. While Smith was always a candidate to land big money — as he had leverage via a trade and Lamar Jackson being primed for last year’s franchise tag — Madubuike represents more of an underdog story.

The No. 71 pick in the 2020 draft, the Texas A&M alum had never totaled more than 5.5 sacks or nine QB hits in a season prior to his contract year. His walk-year numbers of 13 and 33 in those categories could have given the Ravens pause, potentially calling for a “prove it” year on the tag. But after they carried a $32MM-plus Jackson tag number into late April last year, the AFC North champions will have their payroll more organized going into free agency this year.

After the Ravens released Calais Campbell last year, Madubuike stormed ahead as the team’s top sack artist. Helping late-arriving free agents Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy produce surprising sack numbers, Madubuike also tied an NFL record by recording at least a half-sack in 11 consecutive games. That secured the ex-Day 2 pick his first Pro Bowl nod. By Thanksgiving, Madubuike had shown enough to the point he would not be permitted to reach free agency. The Ravens unholstered their tag but will not come close to the July deadline. As Zach Orr takes over as DC, the Ravens will make sure he has an impact D-line presence locked down.

Ravens Place Franchise Tag On DT Justin Madubuike

Justin Madubuike profiled as the Ravens’ top pending free agent and to no surprise, he will not reach the open market. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle received the franchise tag on Tuesday, per a team announcement.

A statement from general manager Eric DeCosta confirms Baltimore will continue negotiating a long-term agreement. Talks on that front took place during last week’s Combine, but no agreement was reached. Now, Madubuike will be tied – at least temporarily – to a 2024 salary and cap hit of $22.1MM.

The 26-year-old put up modest but improving numbers across his first three seasons in the league. A jump in production (particularly in the pass-rush department) was expected to an extent entering 2024, but the degree to which it took place was surprising. Madubuike posted 13 sacks and 33 QB pressures, shattering his previous marks in those and other categories while earning second-team All-Pro acclaim.

As a result, the expectation grew throughout the season that the Texas A&M product would be the next in line to secure a major DT pact. Reports recently made it clear the tag would be used the ensure such an offer would not come from an outside suitor, and now Baltimore will be tasked with hammering out a long-term agreement. Talks on that front can continue through to July 15.

The 2022 offseason saw several young producers along the defensive interior land new deals. A clear second tier behind Aaron Donald in terms of annual compensation emerged; Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, Dexter Lawrence and Daron Payne each agreed to multi-year contracts averaging between $22.5MM and $24MM per year and including almost identical guarantee figures. Maduibuike will no doubt be seeking an accord along the same lines after his breakout campaign.

The former third-rounder is one of several key pending free agents the Ravens have to deal with, however. Linebacker Patrick Queen, right guard Kevin Zeitler and edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney are among the starters at risk of departing once the new league year opens, and the same is true of multiple other starters on both sides of the ball. Locking in Madubuike on a multi-year pact will be necessary to avoid carrying his $22.1MM cap hit in full during the 2024 season. The ability of both team and player to come to an agreement will therefore remain a storyline worth following.

Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic noted early today that the Ravens still believed a long-term Madubuike deal was possible with the understanding the tag would otherwise come into play as a placeholder. That will be the case for now, but Baltimore will continue to seek a deal beyond 2024 while juggling other pressing free agent matters.

Ravens, DL Justin Madubuike Discussing Extension

Justin Madubuike enjoyed a breakout season in 2023, boosting his free agent stock considerably. He is not expected to reach the open market given the option of a franchise tag, but the ascending Ravens D-lineman could still be retained on a long-term deal.

When speaking at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta confirmed that discussions have taken place on a new deal for Madubuike. While he later acknowledged that the franchise tag will all-but assuredly be used if no traction is gained in the near future, the team’s clear preference is an agreement providing more financial flexibility.

“We’re trying to get a deal done,” DeCosta said, via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley“We’ve had discussions with Justin. He’s the guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year, by the way that he played. Had a great season for us. He’s a valued player on the team and we’re hopeful that we can get a long-term deal done.”

Madubuike saw incremental growth in terms of year-over-year production during his first three seasons in the league. His continued development took on a decidedly different level in 2023, however, as he recorded 13 sacks and 33 QB hits. The 26-year-old earned his first career Pro Bowl invite, as well as a second-team All-Pro nod. He therefore projects as the Ravens’ top priority in terms of in-house players in need of being retained.

Last offseason saw a surge in the price of up-and-coming defensive linemen. The quartet of Quinnen WilliamsJeffery Simmons, Daron Payne and Dexter Lawrence each landed extensions worth between $22.5MM and $24MM per season. Madubuike could be in line to secure a similar value on his next contract if one can be worked out on either side of the tag deadline (March 5). The one-year tender would cost $22.1MM, and absorbing that cap hit at once would hinder Baltimore’s other efforts in free agency.

Of course, the tag could wind up serving as a stop-gap to allow more time on the negotiation front. Tagged players can work out a new deal as late as mid-July, but if DeCosta has his way, Madubuike will already be on the books for 2024 and beyond by that point.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:


Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Ravens Prepared To Tag DL Justin Madubuike

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.

Ravens Extend DL Michael Pierce

Michael Pierce is sticking around Baltimore. The Ravens have signed the defensive tackle to a two-year extension, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.

The new two-year deal is worth $7.5MM and will keep Pierce in a Ravens uniform through the 2025 campaign. The veteran defensive lineman initially signed a three-year, $16.5MM deal with the Ravens prior to the 2022 campaign. The two sides later reworked that deal to make Pierce a potential free agent following this season.

The former UDFA spent the first four seasons of his career in Baltimore, starting 30 of his 60 appearances. He inked a three-year deal with the Vikings in 2020, but after opting out of his first season with the organization, he was limited to only eight starts in 2021. He was released by Minnesota during the 2022 offseason and quickly caught on with his former squad.

Pierce’s first season back in Baltimore was limited to only three games thanks to a torn biceps, but he’s returned to start each of his 16 appearances in 2023. This season, he’s compiled 36 tackles, one sack, and two fumble recoveries, with Pro Football Focus grading him 18th among 131 qualifying interior defenders.

The Ravens have been busy retaining their defensive tackles. The team extended Broderick Washington prior to the season, and they’ve now locked in Pierce. The last order of business would be Justin Madubuike, who is set to hit free agency after this season. Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic says it’s “hard to imagine” that the Ravens would let Madubuike hit the open market, even if it means they have to hit the defensive lineman with the franchise tag.

AFC North Notes: Burrow, Browns, Ravens

The Bengals have grown accustomed to Joe Burrow missing considerable practice time. ACL rehab (2021), an appendectomy (2022) and this summer’s calf strain have kept the star quarterback off the field during extended portions of training camp. More of the same could be coming in 2024. Burrow is on the shelf for the season’s remainder due to a wrist injury, one the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway notes is a tear in the scapholunate ligament. This injury will call for a four- to six-month recovery timetable.

Burrow going down in mid-November will put his availability for the team’s offseason program up in the air. It has not yet been determined if Burrow will throw during OTAs or minicamp, per Conway, who adds the injury damaged a ligament in the middle of his right wrist. Burrow underwent surgery on Nov. 27 in Pennsylvania. Given Burrow’s history of offseason setbacks, it would not surprise to see the Bengals keep the NFL’s highest-paid player on the shelf until training camp.

While Zac Taylor will be back for a sixth season as head coach, the next Bengals offseason program could feature a new offensive coordinator given the NFL’s demand for offense-oriented coaches and fifth-year OC Brian Callahan‘s role in Jake Browning’s early work replacing Burrow. Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • The Ravens already came to terms on an extension with Broderick Washington, but ascending defensive lineman Justin Madubuike is also believed to be in the team’s plans. Baltimore has an extensive history letting front-seven players walk in free agency and pocketing compensatory picks. Matt Judon, C.J. Mosley and Pernell McPhee are among the more recent examples here, but The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec offers that the fourth-year D-lineman is playing too well for the team to consider letting him go (subscription required). With the team looking for an interior rush presence for a while, Zrebiec points to a new deal or a franchise tag for the former third-round pick. Madubuike’s team-leading 12 sacks have bolstered a Ravens pass rush that again entered a season with questions. The Ravens, who did tag Judon before letting him walk a year later, would need to pony up at least $19.5MM to tag Madubuike.
  • On the subject of interior D-linemen, two of the Ravens’ AFC North rivals attempted to claim fourth-year DT Teair Tart this week. The Bengals and Browns submitted unsuccessful claims for the veteran nose tackle, ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets. The Texans claimed Tart, who follows Derek Barnett as a Houston D-lineman claim this season. Although the Texans are 8-6, the Bengals are positioned in the playoffs presently due to tiebreakers. That worked in Houston’s favor on the wire.
  • A recent report pegged Ogbo Okoronkwo as being out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot notes the Browns edge rusher has sought a second opinion and is not yet certain to be shut down. The Browns have not yet placed Okoronkwo on IR, pointing to a potential re-emergence. Although this season has featured three notable comebacks from pectoral tears (Avonte Maddox, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DaQuan Jones), Okoronkwo suffering a tear, which Cabot indicates he has, would likely shut him down due to the timing of the injury. Maddox and Gardner-Johnson rehabbed from Week 2 maladies; Jones suffered his injury in Week 5. Okoronkwo avoiding a season-ending injury would obviously boost the Browns, who have seen a number of key performers go down with major injuries this year.

Ravens Aiming To Retain Justin Madubuike

Justin Madubuike entered 2023 with the potential to boost his free agent stock through a strong performance in the final year of his rookie contract. To say he has done so would be an understatement to say the least.

The Ravens defensive lineman has enjoyed a breakout campaign this year, essentially upping his market value on an every-game basis. Madubuike has easily surpassed his previous career-high for sacks in a season with 9.5 and counting. That figure leads the team, and he has recorded at least 0.5 sacks in eight consecutive contests.

That production has the 26-year-old in line for a signficant payday this offseason. A report from last month made it clear teams around the NFL expected a notable raise to come Madubuike’s way either on a Ravens extension or a deal from an outside team. The DT market made considerable gains in 2023 with Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, Daron Payne, Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver among the young contributors at the position who landed sizeable second contracts with their respective teams.

Madubuike could very well be next in line to join that group from a financial standpoint. Oliver’s Bills deal carries an AAV of $17MM, while the other four aforementioned players range between $22.5MM and $24MM in that regard. No firm numbers have emerged with respect to an asking price from Madubuike, but to no surprise Baltimore is interested in reaching an agreement. The Ravens hope to retain the Texas A&M product, Dianna Russini of The Athletic writes (subscription required).

Baltimore already made one notable investment in its D-line in 2023, signing Broderick Washington to a three-year, $15.75MM extension in the summer. Madubuike, a fellow 2020 draftee, will be able to command a much larger deal than that if/when he reaches the open market. Working out a long-term agreement with the latter could prove to be a challenge for the Ravens, given the structure of Lamar Jackson‘s mega-contract and its scheduled jumps in cap hits in future years.

Of course, the franchise tag could be an option at Baltimore’s disposal to at least prevent Madubuike from reaching free agency. The one-year tender is projected to cost roughly $20.9MM, a sign of the upward trend the DT market experienced last summer. The Commanders took the franchise tag route with Payne before ultimately working out an agreement. A similar path could be in store for Madubuike and the Ravens, though it will be interesting to see how high his asking price climbs in the wake of his breakout campaign.

Ravens DT Justin Madubuike In Line For Signficant Contract?

The upcoming free agent class at the defensive tackle spot could include the likes of Chris Jones and Christian Wilkins if they do not re-up with the Chiefs and Dolphins, respectively. Another, younger option at the position is also set to hit the open market soon, though, and he could be in store for a notable raise.

Justin Madubuike is currently playing out the final year of his rookie contract with the Ravens. The 25-year-old has emerged as a signficant contributor on Baltimore’s defense, seeing a jump in playing time with each passing season. Madubuike’s 2023 snap share sat at 69% prior to today’s win in London, a game in which he recorded five tackles and a pair of sacks.

That performance brings his total in the latter category to 4.5, only one short of the career high he registered last season. The Texas A&M product has proven to be a disruptive presence along the interior with 11 tackles for loss since the start of the 2022 campaign, and his age should help earn him a lucrative second contract with the Ravens or another interested team in March. Indeed, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler notes Maduibuike is expected around the league to command a sizeable raise in the near future.

Baltimore faced the prospect of not only Maduibuike, but also fellow D-linemen Michael Pierce and Broderick Washington departing in March at one point. That situation has been prevented with the latter inking a three-year extension in August, but talks on Madubuike’s next deal will be worth watching. The former third-rounder has been on the extension radar for some time now, but it has long been expected his second contract would check in at a larger price tag than Washington’s.

The 2023 offseason saw the defensive tackle market make serious gains regarding players in Madubuike’s age range. Quinnen WilliamsJeffery Simmons, Daron Payne and Dexter Lawrence each re-upped with their respective teams on deals averaging between $22.5MM and $24MM per year. Madubuike would likely need to deliver a monster season the rest of the way to put himself in contention to reach the top of the DT market in free agency, but he can be expected to cash in considerably compared to the $1.2MM AAV of his rookie pact. His continued play through the remainder of the campaign, and its effects on his market, will be a storyline to follow.

Extension Candidates: Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington

The Ravens have a strong three-man defensive line this year with Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, and Broderick Washington. Unfortunately for Baltimore, all three linemen are playing in contract years in 2023. In fact, the only defensive linemen under contract past this season are last year’s third-round pick Travis Jones, undrafted second-year player Rayshad Nichols, who signed a two-year reserve/futures deal, and undrafted rookie Trey Botts out of Colorado State-Pueblo. Unless Baltimore wants to start over from scratch next season with an inexperienced returning group, it will need to look into extending the stays of Madubuike, Pierce, and/or Washington.

Firstly, Pierce is not considered a favorite for a long-term extension. The former undrafted star is currently playing out his fourth NFL contract. The aging veteran is 30 heading into the 2023 season and has only played in 11 games in the past three years, including only three in his return to Baltimore in 2022. The Ravens may extend their old vet a friendly one-year deal to prolong his stay if he can prove healthy this season, but Pierce’s days of long-term contracts are likely in the rearview.

Madubuike and Washington were both drafted in 2020 by the Ravens. Both were Texas-natives with Madubuike coming out of Texas A&M in the third round and Washington coming out of Texas Tech in the fifth. As rookies, the two saw reserve time, filling in for a strong starting lineup that included Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell, and Brandon Williams. The following year, a season-long injury to Wolfe and the departure of a few depth pieces cracked the door open for more playing time.

Madubuike was the first to step up and earn more defensive snaps. In his sophomore season, he joined the starting lineup for 11 games, even playing more defensive snaps than the veteran Williams. Madubuike improved on all of his rookie numbers, collecting more tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, and even adding on two batted passes. Washington also found the field more often in his second year, and after not recording anything but two assisted tackles as a rookie, he, too, bettered every statistical category.

Last year saw a bit of a breakout year for both linemen. Madubuike spent the year as a full-time starter for the first time in his career, while Washington joined him for much of the year as the team’s de facto third lineman behind Madubuike and Campbell. Madubuike once again improved his numbers, recording career-highs in total tackles (42), sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (8), quarterback hits (9), and batted passes (3). Washington also notched new career-highs in total tackles (49), quarterback hits (4), and batted passes (6), while matching his previous highs in sacks (1.0) and tackles for loss (2). Washington also had his highest career grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), grading out as the league’s 31st-best interior defender, while Madubuike, despite the more explosive numbers, ranked at 54th.

Now, Madubuike will return to his role as a full-time starter in 2023. If he continues this trend of improving on his output each year, he could follow many former Ravens’ defensive linemen in pricing himself right out of Baltimore, especially as price tags on interior defenders have skyrocketed in recent years. With Ed Oliver‘s recent new deal, 11 defensive tackles are making $17MM per year or more. That’s a lot to ask of a Ravens team that has failed to see consistently strong returns on recent investments in the defensive line. Still, if they’d like to lock down Madubuike long-term, it’d likely be smart to do it before the guy they view as an ascending player does just that and forces them to allow him to test free agency.

Washington, on the other hand, is walking into his first season as a full-time starter. Despite being arguably more effective than Madubuike last season, his lack of starting experience combined with his smaller presence on the stat sheet make Washington much cheaper to extend. Make no mistake, Washington deserves to be paid for his toughness against the run, his disruption of passing lanes, and his ability to eat up space and open the field for his teammates to make plays, but a lineman with only two career sacks isn’t going to be able to demand a record deal.

Madubuike feels like the higher priority, for right now. That’s not to say that Washington isn’t just as important to the team’s future, it’s just that Madubuike seems to hold a much higher penalty if the Ravens fail to secure him before the end of the season. Baltimore could even potentially wait a beat on Washington to see how he performs in his first year as a full-time starter. Unless he sees quite an uptick in statistical output this season, the Ravens may not even face strong competition in bringing Washington back as an unrestricted free agent.

In terms of contract numbers, Madubuike could potentially push up close to the numbers of Oliver. Oliver had been a bit more consistent in his sack and disruption numbers at this point in his career, but if Madubuike continues to develop and improve, his best season could be better than Oliver’s best. If I had to venture a guess, I’d put a Madubuike extension in the range of $14MM-17MM per year for three or four years, perhaps a four-year, $60MM deal. As mentioned above, Washington’s deal should be a bit more reasonable. Again for three or four years, Washington may end up closer to the $7MM-10MM per year range. It wouldn’t be out of the question for him to end up with a four-year, $36MM or three-year, $30MM extension.

The Ravens are certainly in a position where they need to be thinking of their future at defensive line. Jones showed some promise as a rookie but expecting him to shoulder the load of leading the defensive line next year is asking a lot. They can also continue a short-term rental of Pierce, but cementing a future with Madubuike and Washington on the line could spell success and stability for the Ravens defense moving forward.