AFC Divisional Round: Ravens vs. Titans

Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon tackles Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill during Baltimore’s divisional round loss on Jan. 11. Judon is set to become a free agent.

OWINGS MILLS — Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Friday during his season-review news conference that it will likely be difficult to re-sign outside linebacker Matthew Judon, the team’s top free agent.

“Very much and pretty hard, but we’re going to try,” he said when asked how badly Baltimore wants to retain Judon and how difficult the task may be.

A year ago, the Ravens saw their top two edge rushers leave in free agency when Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs signed with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. Smith’s departure was expected, as Baltimore knew it would not be able to outbid what another team would be willing to offer the rising star. Smith signed a massive four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers. He proved worth the investment, recording a career-best 13.5 sacks in 2019.

“There are a lot of things that can go into that, as we all know – the business part of it that agents and general managers that they deal,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll stay out of that. Probably Matt will stay out of that, too, and we’ll let everybody do their jobs. But, our goal will be to have Matt back.”

Judon led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks this season. Baltimore blitzed the most of any team in the NFL, but ranked 21st with 37 total sacks.

The Ravens expressed confidence in Judon’s ability to step into the role of the team’s top edge rusher. They do not have another pass rusher of his caliber on the roster if he follows the path of Smith and Suggs. Third-year linebacker Tyus Bowser finished the season second on the team with five sacks and rookie outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson had 2.5.

Judon has proven productive and durable since Baltimore drafted him out of Division II Grand Valley State in 2016. He has missed only two games to injury and amassed 28.5 sacks.

The Ravens will have more salary cap flexibility than they have had in several seasons, so using the franchise tag on Judon remains a possibility to keep him for another year. Baltimore is also projected to have nine picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.

In a dejected Ravens’ locker room following the upset loss to the Tennessee Titans, Judon admitted that it had crossed his mind that he could have played his last game for Baltimore. He added he hoped it was not the case.

“I love it in Baltimore,” Judon said. “I’m appreciative of [Eric] DeCosta, of Ozzie [Newsome], of Coach ‘Harbs’ giving me an opportunity. They trusted in me starting for the last three years. They gave me a bigger portion this year as my role on the team, and I’m forever grateful to them. But ultimately, that’s a decision that comes from them and me. We have to sit down and talk about some things and my agency. We have to see, but for the last four years and this whole year, I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Since replacing Newsome as general manager last year, DeCosta has re-signed eight players before their contracts expired, including four during the season in cornerback Marcus Peters, fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, wide receiver Willie Snead IV and inside linebacker L.J. Fort.

“There’s no question that that’s a priority for us,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to try to get as many of these guys re-signed as we can. Matt is probably right at the top of the list, for sure.”

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