*Pundits React to No Tags for Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue *
The NFL's franchise tag deadline came and went on Tuesday afternoon and the Ravens elected not to tag pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue or Matthew Judon. It didn't come as much of a surprise to pundits given the reported price tags.
"Neither player was expected to receive the franchise tag, worth over $17 million in 2021 for a defensive end, with the Ravens' limited cap room," The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi wrote.
Edge rusher is a premium position in the NFL, and players are paid like it. According to Spotrac.com, the top-five highest-paid outside linebackers and defensive ends are making $19 million or more a year.
Chicago's Khalil Mack, the highest-paid edge defender, makes $23.5 million. Since then, the Los Angeles Chargers' Joey Bosa and Cleveland's Myles Garrett have signed massive extensions that have surpassed that average annual value.
Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland projects the Ravens to have just north of $14 million in cap space. When considering the needs heading into free agency and the draft – not using the franchise tag makes sense.
Now what does the future hold for the pass rushers?
"Unfortunately, this creates an interesting dilemma for the Ravens," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "Both Ngakoue and Judon are among the league's top pending free agents and could receive quite a bit of interest. … With outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser also set to hit free agency, Baltimore could very well see their four top edge defenders leave in the coming weeks."
Both Judon and Ngakoue are expected to test the market as free agents. With a number of other good outside linebackers hitting the market and compressed salary cap, they could encounter less-than-desirable offers that could leave a return to Baltimore as their best option. If they don't return, the Ravens would likely receive high compensatory picks next season.
"The Ravens have often allowed pending free agents to test the market to determine their actual value," Stevens added. "With the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap and several big names hitting free agency, that might just be Baltimore's philosophy once again this offseason."
Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon said teams like the Ravens who are looking for pass rush help were among the winners from Tuesday's deadline as Leonard Williams was the only front-seven defender to receive the tag.
"Oftentimes, the tag window waters down the pass-rushing market because teams value edge defenders so much that they're willing to pay premiums to keep them around," Gagnon wrote. "But that wasn't the case this year.
"On the menu for now? Super Bowl hero Shaquil Barrett, young playmaker Yannick Ngakoue, three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney … promising Pittsburgh Steelers edge Bud Dupree, the immensely underrated Carl Lawson and 2020 breakout stars Trey Hendrickson and Haason Reddick."
Wide Receiver Market Outlook After Tag Deadline
Among the losers of the tag deadline was the wide receiver market. Chicago's Allen Robinson and Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin received the tag and won't become free agents this offseason.
"With Robinson and Godwin tagged, clubs seeking help at wideout must turn their attention to the likes of Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller V and Corey Davis – all players who have flashed No. 1 receiver potential but haven't fulfilled that role consistently," USA Today's Nate Davis wrote.
The Ravens are among the teams who could be in the market for receiver help, and the expectation was that the biggest names might not even become available. But one player who emerged as a winner was Detroit's Golladay, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, but was limited to just five games, 20 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"Another season like that under the tag could have doomed the 2017 third-round pick, but now he'll arrive as the belle of a ball that will not contain Godwin and Robinson," Gagnon wrote. "Everybody else scheduled to become available – Will Fuller V, JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.Y. Hilton, to name a few – has warts. And Golladay's size and athleticism might entice a receiver-desperate team with cap space to give him way more guaranteed cash than he would have made under the tag as a Lion."
"While [the Ravens] have a prolific offense thanks to Lamar Jackson's rushing ability, the passing game is still lacking," CBS Sports' Tyler Sullivan wrote. "In 2020, they averaged a league-low 171.2 passing yards per game. In an era where the passing attack is king, that simply needs to improve, which Baltimore could do by adding Golladay, who has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons under his belt. He'd instantly be the top option for Jackson and a strong complement to tight end Mark Andrews and fellow receiver Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown."
"He's big and physical enough to win contested balls on the outside, fast enough to get over the top of a defender, and has the route-running ability to win on short and intermediate throws," Ravens Wire's Robert Sobus wrote. "If the Ravens want to give Jackson a player who will elevate his game, Golladay is the right fit. Unfortunately, that's likely to come at a pretty steep price tag, which might be too much for Baltimore to swallow."
Bradley Bozeman Could Be Ravens' Best Bet at Center
Like many, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec did his best to read between the lines during the Ravens' "State of the Offseason" press conferences Tuesday. One of the takeaways was that the solution at center could already be on the roster.
"Harbaugh and the Ravens coaching staff don't have the final say in draft or free-agent signings, but it does make the determination of where to play guys," Zrebiec wrote. "DeCosta making reference to the plan of the coaches when it comes to finding an answer at the troublesome center spot is seemingly an indication that the Ravens believe they have a strong internal option in place. It's well documented that the team is looking to upgrade over Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari this offseason, so [Bradley] Bozeman is almost certainly the best bet.
"DeCosta also mentioned that the team always takes the best player available and that could mean turning in a card for a center in the early rounds of the draft next month. But if the Ravens pencil in Bozeman at center for now, that gives them the flexibility to acquire the best interior offensive lineman that they can afford either in free agency or the draft, rather than being pigeonholed into addressing one spot."
Center was a revolving door for the Ravens last season as they struggled to find consistency at the position. Bozeman has been one of the team's top linemen at guard over the past two seasons, but has plenty of experience at center. He won two national championships while anchoring Alabama's offensive line in 2016 and 2017.
The Ravens have also benefited with a veteran center (i.e. Matt Birk), which could keep Bozeman at guard. Corey Linsley, Alex Mack, and Nick Martin are free agents who are set to hit the open market, and the price tag could vary. Linsley, Pro Football Focus' highest-graded center last season, could receive a monster payday.
"Linsley would be the deluxe-tier solution," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "... [H]e was never less than good in seven seasons as a starter for the Green Bay Packers. He would immediately wipe away the snapping and pass blocking troubles that hampered Mekari and Skura, and he would be more affordable than a top-tier wide receiver or pass rusher."
The Ravens will have options but having a player like Bozeman provides flexibility heading into free agency and the draft.
Ranking the Ravens' Best Free Agent Receiver Signings
You can't go a day in Baltimore without talking about the receiving core and that's been another heavily debated topic this offseason.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley added to the conversation when he ranked all 10 receivers the Ravens have signed in free agency since 2011.
"What kind of wide receiver will Baltimore bring in? Recent history shows a varying level of success with veteran pass-catchers," Hensley wrote.
While the notion of a "No. 1 wide receiver" has been implanted in everyone's head, history shows the Ravens have been successful in finding veteran talent. Look no further than Steve Smith Sr., who Hensley ranked first on his list.
"Smith didn't produce a 100-catch season like Derrick Mason or win a Super Bowl like Anquan Boldin, but Smith will be remembered as one of top free-agent wide receiver additions in Ravens history," Hensley wrote. "In 2015, he recorded seven catches for 137 yards after missing one game with four micro fractures in his back. John Harbaugh has said Smith is one of his all-time favorite players that he's coached because of his competitiveness. In 37 games with the Ravens, Smith caught 195 passes for 2,534 yards and 14 touchdowns."
Jacoby Jones, Mike Wallace, Willie Snead IV, and John Brown rounded out the top five, respectively.