A quick note before proceeding with today's Late for Work: As we noted yesterday, the official start to NFL free agency begins today at 4 p.m., so while we are aware of the reports and passing along the latest in Rumor Mill, there will be no discussion here on the supposed frenzy until the team makes any transactions official. That could have to wait until players undergo a physical, which is complicated by the COVID-19 epidemic.
Seahawks Reportedly Express Interest in Matthew Judon
The Seattle Seahawks have reached out to the Ravens about the availability of outside linebacker Matthew Judon, according to a report by Sports Illustrated’s Corbin Smith.
Seattle is exploring a contingency plan as it continues to attempt to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney, the top pending free-agent pass rusher, Smith wrote.
The Ravens placed the franchise tag on Judon last week, which allows them to retain the 27-year-old Pro Bowl selection for the upcoming season as they try to work out a long-term deal. While the Ravens have made it clear that they want to re-sign Judon, trading him is an option if an agreement cannot be reached.
"If the Seahawks were to pull the trigger and trade for Judon, one source indicated the Ravens would likely ask for a second-round pick in exchange," Smith wrote. "A third-round pick coupled with a late-round pick could also be enough, depending on how negotiations unfold for a potential extension."
The Ravens entered this week in the bottom third in the league in salary cap space, and they'll have even less money to spend when/if moves they reportedly made this week become official. If Judon signs his franchise tag, he would make about $16 million in 2020.
Given the moves the Ravens reportedly made this week to strengthen their interior line, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec doesn't think it makes sense for the Ravens to trade Judon.
"Matthew Judon still could be traded, but why upgrade the interior so much and downgrade on the edge?" Zrebiec wrote. "The sense is that the Ravens could still trade their franchised player if they get a suitable offer and then use the $16 million in cap savings to add a cheaper edge rusher and possibly address another position of need.
"However, the pass rusher market has thinned considerably. There aren't too many productive and affordable guys available. I'd be far more tempted to see how effective Judon would be with pass-rushing threats alongside him."
Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler expressed a similar sentiment.
"It's going to be tough finding a better player on the edge, or even filling his shoes, in free agency," Schisler wrote. " … If the Ravens don't have a contingency plan that replaces Judon, a trade will take away from the defensive front. The Ravens' clear objective in free agency is to strengthen things in the front seven of their defense. Trading Judon is antithetical to that goal."
Judon had a career-high 9.5 sacks this past season in addition to 14 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 54 total tackles in 16 starts. He posted the NFL's fifth-best pass rush productivity and led the league with 25 quarterback hits, per Pro Football Focus.
Report: Ravens Expected to Decline Option on Brandon Carr
As noted above, the Ravens need to make some moves to gain cap room. To that end, the team is expected to decline the option on veteran defensive back Brandon Carr, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. Doing so would free up $6 million in cap space.
The 12-year veteran played the past three seasons in Baltimore. To say that Carr, one of the most respected players in the locker room, has proved to be reliable would be an understatement. Carr, who turns 34 in May, can play cornerback and safety and he's made 192 consecutive starts, second among active players to Philip Rivers. He was recently listed among the top-20 Ravens free-agent signings of all-time.
The Ravens have a rich draft history (three Hall of Famers), but some of Baltimore's most iconic players came via free agency.
Carr, the Ravens' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee the past two years, said after the season ended that he wants to continue playing with the Ravens but understands that it's a business.
"You know how this business goes. I'm prepared for anything," Carr said in January. "But this organization is hands down the best I've been a part of both on and off the field. It's been an amazing three years. We'll see what happens after this."
Zrebiec wrote that declining Carr's option isn't the only move the Ravens will have to make to free up cap space.
"Recouping $6 million on Carr's contract seems to be a necessity now, but the Ravens can't stop there," Zrebiec wrote. "They'll need space to pounce on some free-agent bargains, sign draft picks and to carry into the season for roster flexibility. A trade of Judon would certainly provide breathing room, but short of that, a few extensions or restructures might have to be in order."
Another question regarding veteran defensive backs is whether the Ravens can re-sign cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is a free agent for the first time in his nine-year career.
Hensley wrote that "no one should rule out" the Ravens retaining Smith, but Zrebiec noted that it won't be easy.
"The door hasn't been closed on cornerback Jimmy Smith, but given the Ravens' tight salary cap situation, it would take some serious maneuvering for them to afford him," Zrebiec wrote.
Placing Original-Round Tender on Matt Skura Comes With Risk
By placing an original-round tender on restricted free-agent center Matt Skura rather than a second-round tender, the Ravens are taking a calculated risk, The Athletic's Zrebiec wrote.
"If the Ravens had placed the second-round tender on their starting center, they would have been assured of keeping him because a team wouldn't have risked losing a second-round pick to sign an unheralded player coming off a major knee injury," Zrebiec wrote. "By using an original-round tender, the Ravens have right of first refusal for any outside offer he gets, but they won't get compensation if they don't match the offer.
"The difference between the two tags is about $1.1 million and the Ravens need all the cap savings they can get, so it's easy to see why they made the choice. It also wouldn't be shocking to see another team make a run at Skura with an offer that the cash-strapped Ravens would struggle to match."
Skura, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2016, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 12 when he tore his ACL, PCL and MCL in his left knee.
While the 27-year-old Skura could draw interest from other teams, WNST’s Luke Jones speculated that extenuating circumstances could potentially lessen the interest.
"With the logistical challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, teams probably won't be as motivated to explore an offer sheet with a rehabbing restricted free agent," Jones wrote.
Reflecting on Ravens' Rivalry With Tom Brady's Patriots
It will be surreal to see Tom Brady playing in a uniform other than that of the New England Patriots, but it will likely be a welcome sight for Ravens fans. Brady reportedly has finalized a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Ravens and Patriots, who will meet in Foxborough this coming season, had a fierce rivalry during the future Hall of Fame quarterback's 20 years in New England. Brady won eight of 12 meetings with the Ravens, but he went just 2-2 against Baltimore in the playoffs.
Under Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens handed the Patriots their first home loss in the Brady-Bill Belichick era with a 33-14 rout in the wild-card round in January 2010. The Ravens and Patriots also met in back-to-back AFC Championship Games, with the Ravens losing a heartbreaker, 23-20, in overtime in January 2012 before winning the following year, 28-13, en route to capturing their second Super Bowl title.
The Ravens and Tom Brady have had many classic games over the years.
The teams also had memorable regular-season clashes. One of the many highlights for the Ravens this past season was their 37-20 win over the Patriots in prime time at M&T Bank Stadium.
Although the rivalry was intense, there was mutual respect between the players and organizations. When Ray Lewis was asked prior to his Hall of Fame induction in 2018 about the best quarterbacks he faced in his career, he named Brady and Peyton Manning.
"The games were one thing, but the preparation you had to have during the week was another challenge in itself," Lewis said. "The checks they made, I had to make those checks. The adjustments, they made, I had to make those adjustments. Every time we played each other, we gave each other the greatest respect — as players — we can give. Any time one of us walked off the field, we always gave each other mad respect."
Brady, likewise, had similar praise for Lewis. He said in a 2018 interview that Lewis was the player he feared playing against the most.
"The one guy that I wouldn't want chasing me down would probably be Ray Lewis, because he played with a vengeance,"Brady said. "When he got to me, he wanted to make sure he knew that he got to me, and he usually cleaned my clock pretty good. So he's the one who would probably be in my nightmares."
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