It’s a good time to be Matthew Judon, comfortable in the present and not worried about his future.
The Ravens will count on Judon heavily in 2019, more than ever before. The loss of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency leaves Judon as the new leader of the Ravens’ pass rush. That’s a lot of responsibility, but if Judon is feeling pressure entering a contract year, he isn’t showing it.
Judon looked to be in top physical shape during the Ravens’ three-day mandatory minicamp which ended Thursday. After not participating in voluntary OTAs during May and early June, Judon reported to mandatory workouts looking exactly how the Ravens want him to – confident, professional, ready to embrace a season that has never been more important to his career.
Obviously, Judon has been working on his craft this offseason, whether he’s at home or with the Ravens.
“It’s what I do,” Judon said. “This is our job. This is our life. I have a daughter, wife, have to take care of them. I get up in the morning, get on my Peloton. Then, I go lift weights, and then I do some other stuff that helps with my conditioning and my cardio.”
Judon was a fifth-round pick in 2016, and it’s a selection that has paid big dividends for the Ravens. While he made it clear Thursday that he loves playing in Baltimore, Judon will be a free agent next March, unless he and the Ravens reach agreement on a contract extension. If Judon reaches free agency next season, no matter how much he wants to stay, someone else could make him an offer he can’t refuse.
The topic of Judon’s future will remain a storyline, unless it’s resolved, but it’s a subject he would rather not talk about. Asked about potential contract negotiations between himself and the Ravens on Thursday, Judon declined to offer an update and made it clear his focus was on the field.
“Contract, no contract, there’s no guarantee I play one game this season, so I’m going to go out every single game like it’s my last, and I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here because I have no clue what the future holds,” Judon said. “Hopefully, I’ll be here forever and ever. But, like this offseason, we never know. So, I’m going to attack this season, this practice, this game, whatever I have to do, the next rep, like it’s my last.”
From what Head Coach John Harbaugh saw during minicamp, Judon passed the eye test.
“He looked good,” Harbaugh said. “He looked like he was in shape. He played fast and worked hard; knew what he was doing.”
This will be a different Ravens defense than last season, and Judon is an important piece of the puzzle. Last year, Judon was surrounded by proven pass rushers like Suggs and Smith, which made it more difficult for teams to double-team Judon. His signature moment came against the Oakland Raiders, when Judon became the first NFL player since 2006 with sacks on three consecutive snaps.
Heading into 2019, the Ravens’ pass rush has more question marks. They drafted all-time FBS sacks leader Jaylon Ferguson in the third round, acquired Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray during free agency, and they are hoping that both Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser blossom as consistent pass rushers. But Judon is expected to spearhead the pass rush, and with Suggs no longer the loudest voice in the Ravens’ linebacker room, Judon is a natural choice to assume more leadership.
However, Judon said he won’t change his personality. He’s loud, brash and funny, just like Suggs, but in his own way.
“I get asked this every year, man,” Judon said of becoming a bigger leader. “I’m going to be me. I’m going to laugh, joke, smile, have fun, and if guys lean on me to lead them, I will lead, but I’m not going to force anything. I’m going to be me.”
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale will use Judon’s talents in a variety of ways, but his impact can’t be measured solely by sack totals. If opponents decide to double-team Judon, it could create sack opportunities for others, even if Judon doesn’t get to the quarterback as often.
“We don’t know how they’re going to block me,” Judon said. “I want to be the best edge setter. I want to lead the league in sacks. I want to do all that stuff, but I have to be the best me first and for this team and play within the calls.”
What happens with Judon after next season remains to be seen. But after getting his first taste of the playoffs last season, Judon wants the upcoming season to be special, for both himself and for his teammates.
“I was happy to get back out here, see the young guys, see the rookies, and see the guys that we think are going to help us win a lot of games,” Judon said. “I feel at home. I don’t know how other organizations are, because I was drafted here, but here I feel home. It’s comfortable out here. I almost drive to work with my eyes closed, and I love the people here, the culture here. So, they do it right around here, and then they do it right by us.