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Matthew Judon is carrying the torch

His play has continued the legacy of defensive dominance in Baltimore

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that edge defender Matthew Judon is in a contract year. Judon has joked that he wants “that Russell Wilson money.”

In the first three years of his career, Judon was behind Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs both on the depth chart and in terms of playing time. This year, Judon is the top dog. He’s played exactly as such.

Matthew Judon has earned himself quite the payday this offseason. Over the past three seasons, Judon’s statistics go toe to toe with the leagues best edge defenders.

Considering that Judon was No. 3 on the depth chart in 2017 and 2018, as well as the fact that Judon drops into coverage more than any edge defender in the NFL, he deserves the money coming his way.

Matthew Judon since 2017

68 QB hits

• 40 TFL

• 115 solo tackles

• 23.5 sacks

• 2,173 snaps

Khalil Mack since 2017

• 53 QB hits

• 32 TFL

• 135 solo tackles

• 30.5 sacks

• 2,509 snaps

Jadeveon Clowney since 2017

• 55 QB hits

• 43 TFL

• 98 solo tackles

• 21.5 sacks

• 2,371 snaps

Von Miller since 2017

• 65 QB hits

• 40 TFL

• 108 solo tackles

• 31.5 sacks

• 2,430 snaps

While being out-snapped significantly by Clowney, Mack and Miller, as well as dropping into coverage more frequently, Judon has recorded more QB hits and comparable numbers across the board.

Judon is commonly criticized for “his sacks coming in bunches.” This criticism is invalidated in several ways.

  1. Judon has consistently hovered in the top 10 pass rush win rates, according to ESPN.

3. Sacks come in bunches for all players, however, this season Judon has recorded a sack in eight separate games.

The Ravens send five or more rushers more than any other team in the NFL, which means opposing passers get the ball out quickly. Wink Martindale’s blitz heavy attack gives quarterbacks the ultimatum of throwing to their first read or being hit.

While the Ravens sack numbers are quite pedestrian in comparison with the rest of the league, they record a QB knockdown on 10.7% of drop backs, which leads the NFL.

Judon is the driving force, leading the team in QBKD’s, QB hits and sacks.

Statistically, Judon has been very strong. In terms of analyzing the Grand Valley State product’s game, Judon plays with great leverage and always maintains vision to the ball.

With great length, speed and power, Judon has been able to hunt ball carriers and passers alike. His speed to the perimeter has allowed him to blow up countless outside runs and screens.

While the outside run defense has been a chink in the Ravens armor defensively, rarely are such plays executed to Judon’s sideline.

Martindale has also started to use Judon as a stand up A-gap player, taking a few snaps as a middle linebacker as well. Getting Judon matched up with interior offensive lineman has showcased explosiveness.

From the emotional standpoint, Judon, along with Marlon Humphrey, are the successors to the heritage of Ravens defense.

The pair were drafted, developed and studied under Terrell Suggs and Jimmy Smith respectively. They were raised as Ravens. That means that they play with the physicality, confidence and aggression that has embodied the defensively proud franchise from its inception.

When Terrell Suggs departed, it became Judon’s time to shine. Shine he has, which is no surprise to teammates or coaches alike.

Judon’s play warranted a pro bowl selection. That speaks volume to what his peers and coaches around the conference think of him, considering Judon didn’t lead the fan vote. Players and coaches carry 23 weight into a pro bowl selection.

The league has taken notice. Judon, if he reaches free agency, will be a hot commodity. He’s more versatile than Za’Darius Smith, who signed a four year, $66 million dollar contract this past offseason. However, only $20 million of Smith’s contract is guaranteed.

Judon and his representation will certainly seek Smith’s deal at the least. Judon deserves every penny. Smith’s 2019 cap hit is a modest $7.25 million, which balloons to $17 million in 2020, then $20 million in 2021-22.

The Ravens are projected to have $51 million in 2020 cap space as things stand. If the Ravens sign Judon to a similar structure that Smith received in Green Bay, the Ravens will be left with around $42 million in cap space.

The other prominent free agents are Michael Pierce and Marcus Peters. Jimmy Smith, Matt Skura, Gus Edwards and Patrick Onwuasor will also receive heavy consideration.

$42 million would certainly be able to afford five of the six. Take into account that the Ravens can free up $7 million of Tony Jefferson’s contract, which is set to hold over an $11 million cap hit in 2020, the Ravens have more than enough to go around. This seems more than likely, as Chuck Clark has locked up the strong safety position in Jefferson’s absence.

The wild card is that the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to expire after next season and all signs are pointing to a significantly higher cap. In other words, digging out $70 million for Judon in 2020 might be pennies on the dollar in 2022.

Judon also plays one of the most important positions in the game. The common school of thought is the positions that are most worthy of investment are left tackle, edge and cornerback. This is why we saw C.J. Mosley walk to receive a much larger contract than what Za’Darius Smith did. Eric DeCosta is a forward thinker and knows where to bargain shop as well as where to invest.

Judon fits the bill. The Taco Bell lover is a late round pick who works his tail off, is durable (Judon has never missed a game in his four year career), has improved each year, and is homegrown.

After letting Smith walk and Suggs leaving, the Ravens simply can’t afford to let Judon hit the market.

They saw how C.J. Mosley’s value skyrocketed, and despite Tyus Bowser playing well, letting Judon walk would be a major step back. This team has proved that they have a Super Bowl window, which is likely through Lamar Jackson’s rookie deal. Bringing back the group of Judon, Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson would allow them to improve throughout another offseason, while adding to the room through the draft or in free agency.

Besides, if you don’t pay ascending, homegrown talent, who plays a premiere position. . . who do you pay?