Many pundits and prognosticators outside of the Baltimore Ravens organization believe that the writing has been on the wall for a while regarding the long-term future of former first-round inside linebacker Patrick Queen with the team.
Ever since they selected him No. 28 overall in 2020 out of LSU, he has been a linchpin starter in the defense and hasn’t missed a single game or start.
However, after the team traded for and signed veteran First-Team All-Pro Roquan Smith to a mark-setting extension followed by the drafting of former Clemson standout off-ball linebacker Trenton Simpson and the formal declining of his fifth-year option the following week, it was widely assumed that Queen’s days in a Ravens uniform were numbered.
In a recent appearance on the team’s official podcast ‘The Lounge’, general manager Eric DeCosta vehemently denied and dispelled the belief that they plan to move on from the ascending young defender and don’t believe he is worth keeping around.
“People want to jump to conclusions [and say], ‘Oh [Simpson] is going to replace Patrick,'” DeCosta said. “I can tell you this. Patrick Queen had a helluva year last year. Patrick Queen is a very talented, in my mind, Pro Bowl-type linebacker. He’s going to have a great year this year.
The 23-year-old is coming off his best season to date from both a statistical and impactful standpoint. He finished with career-highs across the board that include total tackles (117), sacks (five), quarterback hits (14), pass deflections (six), and interceptions (three) according to Pro Football Reference.
Not only did DeCosta refute and declare the narrative that the team doesn’t want to keep Queen beyond this season, but he also expressed their desire to hopefully sign him to a long-term deal “at some point.”
“We want Patrick Queen on this team; we want to keep him on this team. We will, at some point, try to get him signed, hopefully, to an extension if we can.”
Declining Queen’s Fifth-Year Option was Just ‘Business’
Typically when a team declines the fifth-year option on a former first-round pick’s contract, it signals that they are dissatisfied with that player’s production through the first three seasons or they haven’t seen enough yet to warrant the significant increase in financial commitment for another year.
Queen is entering the final year of his rookie contract and by declining his fifth-year option, they won’t be on the hook for the fully-guaranteed $12.7 million that he would’ve been owed in 2024 if they had excised it. However, unlike as was the case with over half of his fellow first-rounders in 2020, the Ravens not picking up Queen’s fifth-year option was strictly economical and non an indication of any dissatisfaction according to DeCosta.
“The fifth-year option was something that was more based on business and the salary-cap economics than actually Patrick Queen and his performance and what he does as a player,” he said. “He’s a difference-maker for us.”
Queen and Smith formed arguably the best inside linebacker tandem in the league down the second-half stretch in the 2022 season. The two of them complemented each other perfectly and took turns making impactful plays one after the other as the entire defense rose its collective level of play.
“When we had Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith last year over the last half of the season, we had a chance to see how dominant our defense could be,” DeCosta said.
Keeping the two of them together for at least one more year makes perfect sense given the amount of talent on this year’s team either playing on one-year deals or entering the final year of their respective deals.
With a full offseason of working together and getting even more in sync, there’s no telling how dominant defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit can be led by the ferocious duo.
However, as far as how much sense it makes to try to keep Queen for the long haul from an economics standpoint, that might not be the best allocation of what will be their increasingly limited salary cap resources after making former league MVP Lamar Jackson the highest-paid player in NFL history.
According to the spotrac.com, the average annual salary for the top five inside linebackers in the league is $18.7 million with Smith at the top with a well-earned average of $20 million. Barring a truly transcendent season, Queen will likely slot in somewhere on the second tier if and when he hits the open market which would come with a price tag of roughly $10.76 million.
Queen could very well deliver and realize the potential that DeCosta and the team see in him and get voted to his first career Pro Bowl in 2023. However, committing north of $30 million to a position of decreased value like off-ball linebacker could prevent them from retaining or acquiring proven players at premium positions such as wide receiver or cornerback which are slated to be big needs again next offseason with so many players currently on one-year deals.
Ravens Believes Simpson Will Complement Starters and Shine on Special Teams
The team entered this year’s draft with just five picks and none in the second after sending it over to the Chicago Bears in exchange for Smith. While they are thrilled to have Simpson on the roster, DeCosta admitted that they didn’t go into the third round looking to add another off-ball linebacker but the value that the former Clemson star presented was too good to pass up.
“It’s never the worst thing to draft the best available player,” he said. “That’s what we do here.”
Simpson was a dynamic chess piece on the Tigers’ defense during his time in college because he possesses the versatile skill set and athleticism to lineup all over the defensive alignment.
“The appealing thing is getting Trenton in here with everything he can do as a blitzer, on third downs, off the edge, his special teams ability,” DeCosta said. “It’s really just us adding another fast, physical, smart linebacker to the mix and giving us a chance on defense to be the best that we can be.”
DeCosta isn’t the only member of the Ravens brass that is enthralled with his potential to significantly impact special teams as a rookie. Special teams coordinator Chris Horton told reporters on May 10, 2023, that “it was easy to love” what he brought to the table because he possesses “those Ravens traits” that they look for, including being fast, physical, and tough.
“You turn on the tape and you watch him fly around, you watch him get to the football, you watch him make plays,” Horton said. “When I had the privilege to evaluate that guy as a special teamer, it was a no-brainer for me.”
He also said that the energy level that Simpson plays with is “off the charts” which is the kind of mentality that many of the franchise staples on defense and special teams have been known for having.
“I truly believe that guy is going to do some good things for us this year,” Horton said.
Simpson will make his presence immediately felt on the kick coverage units as a rookie and could carve an early role for himself in a rotation or situational role as the year goes on and he earns more trust from his coaches or if an injury were to occur to either Queen or Smith.