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Mailbag: What Will Happen With Justin Madubuike?

DT Justin Madubuike
DT Justin Madubuike

Mink: It's absolutely not safe to say that. I think there's a good chance the Ravens retain Justin Madubuike either with the franchise tag or a long-term deal. Talents like Madubuike don't come around too often and the Ravens would hate to lose such a dynamic, young player. Eric DeCosta made it clear when he took over as general manager that retaining the team's homegrown stars is important to him. While you can't keep them all, Madubuike seems to fit the bill of a player the Ravens will at least make every effort to retain.

The Ravens have from now until March 5 at 4 p.m. to place the tag on Madubuike, which would come with a price tag of about $21 million for 2024. The challenge would then be clearing enough salary-cap space to absorb that while leaving enough flexibility to make other moves. That would require some major cuts and/or money shuffling.

Reaching a long-term extension would ensure Baltimore has a foundational piece on the defensive line for years to come and keep Madubuike's 2024 salary-cap hit more manageable. It won't come cheap, however. Madubuike said after the season ended that Baltimore is home, but “business is business.”

If they can't work out an extension before March 5, I would expect the Ravens to keep him from hitting the open market with the tag and continue to work toward a long-term deal.

Downing: Let's start by providing some additional context to this question. The deadline to reach extensions for players with void years in their contracts was on Monday. Without reaching an extension by that date, the Ravens will now carry dead money on their salary cap for players with void years. The Ravens reached a deal with wide receiver Nelson Agholor prior to that deadline, but did not reach new deals with Kevin Zeitler, Gus Edwards, Geno Stone or Rock Ya-Sin. If the Ravens reached extensions with any of those four players at this point, they would count against the salary cap twice – as dead money and their new deals. Zeitler, Edwards, Stone and Ya-Sin carry a combined dead cap figure of about $8.3 million, with Zeitler leading the way at $4.3 million.

It's unlikely for the Ravens to sign those players to new contracts given that they've already taken the dead cap hit for the void years. That's especially true for Zeiter because he has the biggest dead cap figure. It's not impossible to bring him back under a new deal, but if the Ravens were going to do that, they likely would have reached a deal prior to Monday's deadline. Stone could be a candidate to return if he tests the market and doesn't like what he's seeing from other teams. He has likely priced himself out of Baltimore after leading the AFC with seven interceptions this season, but if that doesn't happen, his dead cap hit of only $600,000 is small enough that the Ravens could decide to absorb that if they want to sign him to a new deal. Conventional wisdom says that all four of those players could go elsewhere next season, but it's not done until they sign with another team.

Mink: Ben Cleveland could be a player the Ravens bet on to have a big Year 4, which would follow their strategy at guard in previous seasons. In 2022, Ben Powers stepped in at left guard and excelled, earning a big payday the following year. Last year, it was John Simpson.

Cleveland played well when inserted into the lineup. He's started seven career games and saw 162 snaps last season, including two starts to close out the regular season against the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland graded out from Pro Football Focus (PFF) in both games, particularly against Pittsburgh. He was the team's highest-graded player in that game. Overall, Cleveland received very similar PFF grades to Zeitler last season, in far fewer snaps.

At left guard, the Ravens have some intriguing internal candidates in second-year linemen Sala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees. It might be tough to go all in on either of them considering neither has played an NFL snap yet. However, I think they'll both have a real chance to compete for a starting job. The Ravens could look to add a veteran guard in free agency at some point this offseason, perhaps after the draft if they don't snag a lineman in the early rounds. This year's draft is loaded on the offensive line, so it's a good year to rebuild.

Downing: As Mink answered above, it's likely that Madubuike remains in Baltimore this year. As far as the nose tackle position, I think the Ravens are in good shape with Michael Pierce and Travis Jones as space eaters in the middle of the defense. Pierce played at a high level last year and was healthy throughout the season. Jones is a talented player who could take another step in his third year, and the Ravens have high hopes for his development. They also still have Broderick Washington under contract after signing him to an extension last year. The defensive line is in good shape going into this season, especially if Madubuike is signed long-term or plays under the franchise tag. The Ravens need to address the edges as Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy are set to become free agents, but the middle of the line is in good shape going into 2024.

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