Matthew Judon remembers his five seasons with the Ravens fondly, but he's with a rival now after signing with the New England Patriots in free agency March 19.
In his first videoconference Wednesday since leaving Baltimore, Judon admitted that putting on a different uniform might seem strange at first. But after reportedly signing a four-year, $56 million deal with New England, Judon said he made the best business decision for his family.
"I'm going to keep my relationships and I've built some strong friendships and bonds in Baltimore," Judon said. "It's hard to leave, but that's what I had to do for my career."
"It moved fast. There were calls back and forth from my agents (to teams). We fielded offers. Within three hours, we had a deal. It was a good experience. It worked out how it was supposed to work out. I think I'm in the best situation possible for my football career."
Playing under the franchise tag last season, Judon had his second straight Pro Bowl season as a defensive leader and one of the league's top all-around linebackers. It was a forgone conclusion that Judon would be coveted once he reached free agency, and he tried not to let his emotions about leaving many close friends in the Ravens' locker room play into the process.
Judon was a terrific value pick for the Ravens, a fifth-round selection in 2016 out of Grand Valley State, but all teams lose some talented players in free agency. The league salary cap dropping to $182.5 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult for Baltimore to retain Judon and outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.
"As far as thinking if I could come back or not, that's not really up to me," Judon said. "How free agency went, I've seen how it goes. I'm where I'm supposed to be and I think I'm going to make the best out of this for my career, and for the team I'm playing for, which is the Patriots."
Joining the Patriots will reunite Judon with several former Ravens teammates – defensive tackle Carl Davis, offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, a free agent who was reportedly on the verge of re-signing with New England on Wednesday.
Judon said he had spoken to those former Ravens about what it was like to play with New England, and that he also had a brief conversation with Head Coach Bill Belichick after signing.
"He gave an overview of the team and how they run things," Judon said. "He just kept it very him. It was funny, and it was good, but it was very brief. Obviously we're going to have a lot more conversations."
The Ravens aren't scheduled to face the Patriots in 2021, at least not during the regular season. But, imagine Judon's emotions should the two teams meet in the playoffs. It could mean Judon being blocked by Ronnie Stanley, or trying to sack Lamar Jackson, or heading into the visitor's locker room at M&T Bank Stadium.
It's going to be different for Judon, but both he and the Ravens are moving on.
"Life-changing decisions, you've got to do them fast and swiftly," Judon said. "I just got to get in and know the system. It's not like comparing the two. I don't know, because I haven't taken a snap in New England. We're just going to get in there and we're going to figure out more. Whatever coach needs me to do, I'm willing to do."