The Baltimore Ravens will have some tough decisions to make come March with nearly 30 pending unrestricted free agents slated to hit the open market. Many of them played starting or key rotational roles on the defensive side of the ball and had career years during the 2023 season. With former star Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald officially being hired to become the next head coach of the Seattle Seahawks on Wednesday, some may join him in the Pacific Northwest if they’re not retained.
Here is a list of the top five pending free agents that might follow Macdonald from Charm City to the Emerald City, with the exception of Pro Bowl and All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who the Ravens will likely franchise tag if they can’t get a long-term deal worked out in time.
ILB Patrick Queen
With both Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks slated to be unrestricted free agents coming off seasons where they had a lot of good counting stats but lacked consistency and were liabilities in coverage, Queen being on this list makes perfect sense. Macdonald was his position coach during his standout rookie year in 2020 and helped him blossom into a Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro in 2023 after returning to the staff following a brief stint in college.
Queen has been part of the best inside linebacker tandem in the league in Baltimore the past year and a half since joining forces with two-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro Roquan Smith. As much as they’d like to keep their elite dynamic duo together, paying two off-ball linebackers top or near top-of-the-market salaries likely won’t be financially feasible now that they’re paying a star quarterback top-tier salary.
The former first-rounder out of LSU led the Ravens in total tackles for three straight years before finishing second behind Smith with a career-high 133 in 2023. In 17 games this past season, Queen also recorded nine tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, six pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
During his final media availability during locker cleanout day on Monday, Queen expressed that his desire would be to remain with the Ravens but that he’d also have to “do what’s best” for him and his family, all but confirming his farewell to the franchise barring a surprising turn of events in the next couple of months.
“It would definitely be nice if I’m back,” Queen said. “At the same time, I just have to do what’s best for me [and] do what’s best for my family. Then, [the Ravens] have to do what’s best for them on the other side as well. Wherever that leads to, it’s up to God.”
OLB Kyle Van Noy
The 10th-year veteran went from being on his couch waiting for a team to call in early September to finishing the 2023 season third on the team in sacks with a career-high nine, which would’ve tied second-year pro Boye Mafe for the most on the Seahawks in 2023. He is one of two seasoned edge defenders who had career years as pass rushers on one-year deals for the Ravens and are slated to hit the open market again, with the other being three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney. Of the two of them, Van Noy is the most likely to follow Macdonald to Seattle given that it was already one of the stops on Clowney’s career journey and he likely won’t want to go back because he probably has a better chance to be retained by the Ravens between the two of them.
Congrats to Mike Mac dope he got a head coaching gig with a solid organization! My opinion of Mike in my short time in the building he embodied everything it was to be a raven! The mindset, the competitiveness, leadership, and the winning mindset he brought every day. He also… https://t.co/LjuZ1RKOST— Kyle Van Noy (@KVN_03) February 1, 2024
Van Noy is a two-time Super Bowl champion who despite not joining the team until after the regular season got underway, was an integral leader on and off the field with his play and his words. In addition to recording a career-high in sacks, the 32-year-old also logged 30 total tackles, including nine for a loss, nine quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and four pass deflections in 14 games including just three starts. Ironically, one of his best games of the season came against the Seahawks in Week 9 when he had his second two-sack game in the last three weeks and also finished with two total tackles including one for a loss and a forced fumble that came on strip sack.
Kyle Van Noy with back to back sacks! Second one being a strip sack! And to think he was sitting on his couch for the start of the season! pic.twitter.com/Dz4z5Kr809— Cougs in the Pros (@BYUpros) November 5, 2023
DB Geno Stone
The former seventh-rounder in 2020 saved his absolute best for last as he emerged as one of the best ball hawks in the league under Macdonald’s tutelage in the final year of his rookie contract. Stone not only led the Ravens but the entire AFC in interceptions with a career-high seven which was the second most in the league behind only DaRon Bland’s nine for the Dallas Cowboys. He also had one of his better games of the season against the Seahawks in which he extended his consecutive games with an interception streak to four and logged two pass breakups and a solo tackle as well.
Seattle already has a lot of money invested in their current safety trio that includes three-time Pro Bowlers Julian Love, Quandre Diggs, and Jamal Adams. However, Diggs is 31 and only has one more year left on his current contract. Adams is essentially just a dime linebacker at this stage of his career who at his best playing in the box, is a liability in coverage, has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and could be a salary cap casualty this spring or next as he is signed through the 2025 season.
Stone is no stranger to playing and thriving in a scheme under Macdonald that deploys a lot of three safety sets. There’s certainly a scenario where the Seahawks bring in Queen to replace one of their two leading tacklers and permanently switch Adams position to fill the other and they sign Stone to replace him to provide an elite secondary that already features two young rising stars at cornerback in Pro Bowlers Devon Witherspoon and Riq Woolen.
“I feel like I showed what I can do in this league,” Stone said. “It’s something I’ve always been trying to do, obviously. That’s what everyone in this league wants to do – is show who they can be – and I feel like this was kind of my breakout year. I’m happy that it was this year and the year we had as a team. I’m just appreciative of everything I’ve been through this year.”
CB Ronald Darby
While the Seahawks are set at their top cornerback spots, having quality depth at the position was key to the Ravens’ success this past season and Darby deserves a lot of credit for how well he played when called upon. The nine-year veteran made seven starts in the 14 games he appeared in place of three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey, who struggled to stay healthy this year after undergoing foot surgery in training camp. He finished with 28 total tackles including one for a loss and seven pass breakups and according to Pro Football Focus, he forced 10 incompletions and only allowed 31 receptions on 60 targets for 353 yards and one touchdown.
Ronald Darby in coverage this season (including playoffs):— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) January 31, 2024
31 receptions, 353 yards allowed
1 TD allowed
10 forced incompletions pic.twitter.com/kJKgBNCV9T
There is certainly a strong possibility that Darby will be retained by the Ravens to continue providing quality depth as a backup. However, if he follows Macdonald to Seattle, there’s a realistic chance that he’d see the field more on a rotational basis no matter who is healthy because it would allow Witherspoon to be able to move inside to the slot more often where he was at his best and most disruptive during his stellar rookie campaign.
CB Arthur Maulet
The seven-year veteran stepped up in a very similar way to Darby for the Ravens this year after starting nickel cornerback Ar’Darius Washington went down with an injury early in the year. He played exceptionally well in the slot when called upon although some fans’ last and most prominent memory of him will be giving up the game-sealing 32-yard completion in the AFC Championship game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Maulet was an especially lethal weapon when Macdonald sent him to rush the passer on slot blitzes where he recorded two sacks and a career-high in quarterback hits during the regular season. In the Ravens resounding 34-10 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs, he came unblocked three times and recorded pressure events on each including a quarterback hit and two hurries—one of which resulted in an intentional grounding penalty. He also finished the season with 37 total tackles including five for a loss, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.
With both Maulet and Washington slated to become unrestricted free agents this March, there’s a chance that the Ravens could opt to retain him since he has been the more durable of the two during their respective careers and likely wouldn’t cost anywhere near the top of the market nickel salary. However, if he chooses to follow Macdonald to Seattle, his path to playing time would likely be higher given his familiarity with the scheme and he’d allow Witherspoon to be moved to the outside if there was a specific matchup they wanted while still having a quality option to man the slot.