What Does Lack of Long-Term Deal Mean for Matthew Judon's Future With Ravens?
You didn't need to see the NFL headlines yesterday to learn that Matthew Judon and the Ravens failed to reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension. All you had to do was go on the outside linebacker's Twitter account.
Judon, who will make $16.8 million playing under the franchise tag this season, has maintained his sense of humor throughout what is often a stressful process. But all kidding aside, what does this mean for Judon's future with the Ravens beyond this year?
Let's start with what it doesn't mean, which is that this season is certain to be Judon's last in Baltimore. Judon, who led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks last year and was named to his first Pro Bowl, and the team have both expressed interest in keeping him in the fold for years to come, and that could still happen.
"The Ravens could resume contract talks after the season or they could decide to franchise him for a second consecutive offseason, like they've done in the past with Terrell Suggs and Chris McAlister," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created financial uncertainties for teams and led to speculation that next year's salary cap could decrease.
"With that in mind, the Ravens aren't in a strong spot, cap-wise, to spend freely," NBC Sports Washington's Andrew Gillis wrote. "They've got left tackle Ronnie Stanley up for an extension after this season, a contract that could eclipse Laremy Tunsil's whopping $22 million per year deal.
"In 2022, cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be up for a contract extension. That same year, tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will hit the free agent market as well. All three players were Pro Bowlers in the 2019 season. Finally, there's the looming storm of quarterback Lamar Jackson's eventual contract extension. He's due to become a free agent in 2023 after his fifth-year option."
Zrebiec noted that the Ravens could place the franchise tag on Stanley next year, "but that would open the door for Judon to hit free agency next year and depart."
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal thinks it's doubtful that Judon will be a Raven next season. Of the 13 players who will be playing under the franchise or transition tag this year, he ranked Judon as the 12th-most likely to remain with his team in 2021. (Only Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who has been vocal about wanting to leave Jacksonville, was ranked lower).
"The Ravens tend to view edge rushers as replaceable, and who can blame them?" Rosenthal wrote. "The team's blitz-happy scheme reliably gets Ravens paid elsewhere before Baltimore reliably rolls out the next model in the pipeline. Judon is a high-effort player who stood out in the front seven last season, but the team's disinterest in a long-term deal and trade rumors indicate this is probably his final year in Charm City."
Zrebiec does not share Rosenthal's sentiment about the Ravens not making edge rusher a priority.
"Whether it's Judon or someone else, the Ravens need to allot some cap space to a high-end outside linebacker," Zrebiec wrote. "It's much too important of a position to think you can succeed every year by relying on one-year stopgaps or Day 2-3 draft picks. It's imperative to have at least one established 8-10 sack edge rusher on your roster.
"So the question Ravens decision-makers will need to answer is, 'If not Judon, then who?' The top free-agent edge rushers always cost a ton of money and it's tough to find Day 1 impact guys at the position when you're drafting late in the first round."
One thing Zrebiec feels confident about is that Judon will be more focused than ever.
"It's reasonable to expect him to be locked in throughout the season and intent on earning himself a long-term deal from either the Ravens or someone else," Zrebiec wrote. "When Judon has been at the top of his game over the past couple of years, he's been a high-impact player."
Humphrey, Marcus Peters Ranked Among Top 10 Cornerbacks
A strong case can be made that Humphrey and Marcus Peters are the best cornerback duo in the league, and an ESPN panel of 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players agree.
Humphrey came in at No. 6 in ESPN's top 10 cornerback rankings, while Peters was No. 8. No other team had two players in the top eight. Both Humphrey and Peters were ranked as high as No. 3 among voters.
"Love that guy," an NFL coordinator who played against Humphrey recently said of him. "He's physical, he tackles, serious athlete, strong, moves fluidly. Easily one of my favorite corners."
Added an NFC executive: "Humphrey is my favorite because he plays his ass off."
As for Peters, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote: "Most fascinating player on the list, and many voters think he's too low here."
An NFL coordinator said: "Put him in coverage and he can read and jump. He gets greedy and overaggressive, but he's determined to change the game, and you have to respect it."
Two More Pundits Say Ravens Have Most Talent in the NFL
More and more pundits are proclaiming the Ravens to be the most talented team in the league. Chris Simms and Ahmed Fareed are the latest to do so.
"They got talent. There's no doubt about that," Simms said on the "Chris Simms Unbuttoned" podcast. Between that stable of running backs, the tight end play … the receivers are not superstars, but there's a lot of good and Hollywood Brown has a chance to be a superstar. Yeah, I'm gonna go with the Baltimore Ravens. I think that's a fair assessment."
Simms also praised the Ravens' "big uglies" on the offensive and defensive lines.
Fareed said the Ravens have no glaring weaknesses: "They've got a lot of studs on defense. You've got one of the best quarterbacks in football. You've got some speed guys on the outside. You've got a good running game. … The kicking game. Around the whole 53-man roster there's talent everywhere. So I agree with you."
Bold Prediction Has Steelers Winning AFC North
With such a talented roster, it's no surprise the Ravens are prohibitive favorites to win their third consecutive AFC North title and are a strong Super Bowl contender. Not everyone is ready to crown them, though.
Among Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport's bold predictions for the season is that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North. Considering the Ravens won the division last year by six games over the Steelers and appear to have an even better team this season, that is bold.
"That Steelers team isn't short on talent in its own right — the defense might well be better than Baltimore's," Davenport wrote. "And it wasn't that long ago (2017) that Pittsburgh was a 13-3 team in its own right.
"Baltimore's Thanksgiving Night tilt in the Steel City is going to be one of the most important regular-season contests of the year. And much like the race in the division, the Steelers are going to eke out an upset."
Jackson, Peters Picked for Flag Football Dream Teams
Yesterday's news that the NFL is partnering with The World Games to add flag football to its lineup for the 2022 games in Birmingham, Ala., prompted the "Good Morning Football" crew to build a flag football dream team. The teams consisted of a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive lineman and defensive back.
With Jackson's speed and elusiveness, he was a no-brainer pick at quarterback for Mike Garafolo. Nate Burleson chose Peters as his defensive back.
"You need a DB that can catch. Marcus Peters is going to catch the ball and head the other way," Burleson said.
Marquise "Hollywood" Brown wasn't picked, but after watching the speedy wide receiver's latest insane offseason workout video, I'd have him on my team for sure.