Judon has far outperformed his career expectations coming out of Division II Grand Valley State in 2016, when he was selected by the Ravens in the fifth round. After spending his rookie in a rotational role, he earned a starting job in 2017, establishing himself as a key cog in defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s blitz-heavy scheme.
Judon left Baltimore in free agency this past March, signing a four-year, $56 million deal with the Patriots as part of New England’s busy offseason. His 10.5 sacks on the season are third in the NFL, leading a Patriots’ defense that has the second-most sacks and the third-fewest points surrendered in the league this season.
ESPN’s Mina Kimes was full of praise for the veteran outside linebacker even before his one-sack, five-pressure performance on Thursday night, calling him, “the best signing of free agency.”
“He is absolutely crushing it,” she continued, “When we talk about the Patriots having a Super Bowl defense, it starts with Matt Judon.”
Judon has indeed been impressive this season, making experts and fans alike wonder if the Ravens should have worked harder to keep him in Baltimore.
Judon’ Departure Listed as Ravens’ Worst Decision
Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report listed “Letting OLB Matthew Judon Leave in Free Agency” as the Ravens’ “Most Boneheaded Decision of 2021” yesterday, writing:
Most of the time, the Baltimore Ravens take a draft-and-develop approach to roster building. They try to retain who they can.
The decision to let Matthew Judon leave in free agency was a big mistake because the outside linebacker has been superb for the New England Patriots. His 9.5 sacks through 10 weeks—which matches a career high—are tied for fourth overall.
The Ravens didn’t place the franchise tag on Judon, and there were conflicting reports on what his salary demands really were. But a $6.3 million salary-cap charge this fall is manageable. In fact, it’s close to what the Ravens spent on Justin Houston’s addition and Tyus Bowser’s new deal.
First-round rookie Odafe Oweh has worked out well, but the Ravens could have had both him and Judon working the edge.
But Sobleski oversimplifies the financial aspects of Judon’s deal, as his cap hit is more than $15 million for 2022, 2023 and 2024. Houston’s deal is only for one year, while Bowser’s four-year, $22 million contract never carries a cap hit more than $7.5 in a single season.
The Ravens already signed tight end Mark Andrews to an extension this season, with a massive contract for Lamar Jackson already in the works. Breaking the bank to keep Judon would have put a huge strain on the team’s financial flexibility in future seasons.
Is Judon Missed in Baltimore?
Judon’s 52 quarterback pressures are second among all NFL players this season, according to Pro Football Focus, but the Ravens are excelling at getting to opposing quarterbacks as a team.
The Ravens are sixth in pass rush win rate at 47%, per ESPN, indicating that Houston, Bowser, Oweh and evergreen veteran Calais Campbell are frequently able to get by offensive linemen with ease.
As a result, Baltimore has the league’s second highest quarterback pressure rate, according to Pro Football Reference. Though they sit 20th in the NFL with 19 team sacks, the Ravens’ consistent ability to win matchups and impact quarterbacks will likely see their sack and turnover numbers improve over the rest of the season.