The Ravens' best pass rusher will not be leaving via free agency.
The franchise tag has been placed on outside linebacker Matthew Judon, the team announced Friday. The deadline to place the tag on players is Monday.
The decision allows Baltimore to retain Judon for the 2020 season and provides additional time for the two sides to work out a long-term deal. In the immediate, it keeps Judon from hitting the open market. Judon would have been highly coveted at the start of free agency on Monday.
Judon is coming off a career-high 9 ½ sacks and his first trip to the Pro Bowl at age 27. Judon also had 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.
Baltimore lost two pass rushers during 2019 free agency when Za'Darius Smith signed with the Green Bay Packers and Terrell Suggs signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Losing those two players made it imperative for Judon to step up in 2019, and he responded with his best season.
Now that he has been franchised, the Ravens control Judon's rights while weighing their options moving forward. If he were to sign his franchise tag, Judon would receive a one-year guaranteed deal that will pay him an average of the top five highest-paid players at his position – an estimated $16 million this season.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, General Manager Eric DeCosta said placing the franchise was a possibility.
"We've got to use every mechanism we can to build the best team we can," DeCosta said. "There's a lot of different ways we can do that. The franchise (tag) is a tool. In the past we've used it, at times with success. If that's what we have to do, then we'll probably have to do it. But there's other options as well on the table, long-term deal being something we would love to get accomplished. We'll have to see how it all kind of works out."
The decision to franchise Judon does not guarantee he will remain with the Ravens next season. ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that Judon is a candidate to be traded this offseason, with a number of teams in the market for pass rushers.
The Kansas City Chiefs acquired a second-round pick from the San Francisco 49ers last year in exchange for pass rusher Dee Ford, who was previously tagged by the Chiefs. The Houston Texans also tagged and traded top pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney last year.
The Ravens have made it clear that Judon is an important piece of their defense, a player who has produced at least seven sacks in each of the last three seasons (28.5 overall) while missing just two games in his four-year career.
"We're going to try (to re-sign Judon)," Head Coach John Harbaugh said at his season-ending press conference. "There's no question that's a priority for us."
Asked how difficult it would be to ink Judon to a long-term deal, however, Harbaugh said, "very hard."
The Ravens have previously used the franchise tag eight times on six players:
- G/C Wally Williams – 1998
- CB Chris McAlister – 2003 and 2004 (signed a long-term contract in October, 2004)
- OLB Terrell Suggs – 2008 and 2009 (signed a long-term deal prior to the start of the 2009 season)
- DT Haloti Ngata – 2011 (signed a long-term contract in September, 2011)
- RB Ray Rice – 2012 (signed a long-term deal prior to the start of the season)
- K Justin Tucker – 2016 (signed a long-term deal in July, 2016)