2021 Free Agency: Could Matthew Judon Help Change the Jaguars' Defense?

Baltimore Ravens defender Matthew Judon has a versatile game that makes him hard to peg down. Now the Jacksonville Jaguars can see if they can peg Judon down for themselves, and use his versatility to help usher in Joe Cullen's defense.
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What is Matthew Judon?

A defensive end, an edge rusher, a linebacker—an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker—or a hybrid combination of all three? It’s hard to put a tag on Judon, the impending Baltimore Ravens veteran defender who is set to be a free agent.

As such, it makes him an intriguing prospect on the free agent market, which opens on March 17. Particularly for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are in the midst of a dynamic shift across the board.

Overview

Jaguars fans might best remember Judon for the early play in the late 2020 December game last season. Just four minutes into the game, Judon sacked Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew II in the endzone for a safety, the first points of what would become a 40-14 Baltimore win.

It was one of six sacks Judon had on the season (tied for 31st among edge rushers during the season) with 42 total tackles—29 solo and 13 assisted. He had 39 total quarterback pressures, with 15 hits and 18 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. His six sacks led the Ravens and Judon was named to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row.

Judon (99) forces a fumble on Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17). Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Judon (99) forces a fumble on Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17). Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

What Matthew Judon Does Well

Judon has averaged 7.4 sacks a season since joining the league in 2016 and forced seven career fumbles in that time. As mentioned though, he can play in multiple ways. His snap statistics reflect that, having played a third to a half of his snaps each season as a pass rusher, a third as a run defense and about a fifth in coverage. While he’s no defensive back, PFF gave Judon a 71.6 grade in coverage overall for the 2020 season, making him an extra commodity on what promises to be a new defense under Joe Cullen.

In 2020, Judon lined up outside and standing up, inside and with a hand in the ground, on the line and off. He flashed a swim move to get under offensive linemen as well as just a pure power rush to muscle his way into the backfield.

Perhaps the most ringing endorsement for Judon is the fact his coach doesn’t want to lose him.

"I want Matt Judon back, yes," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said in January. "Whether that will be possible … Again, it's such an unpredictable year with the salary cap. What is anybody going to get paid? And who has cap money? Three teams have, really, any significant amount of cap money. So, we'll have to see about that.

"But Matt had a great year. All-around player, plays super hard, very good leader, awesome competitor. He does everything well. He rushes, he plays the run, he drops, he plays special teams. He's an all-around, excellent, excellent football player. So, nothing but applause for Matt Judon and what he's done."

Verdict

Judon played under the franchise tag in 2020, with no deal reached before the season began. His tag deal was reportedly worth $16.8 million. As OverTheCap.com explained at the time, the biggest holdup with the Ravens giving Judon a big long-term deal last offseason was wanting to cover themselves knowing that Lamar Jackson would be in line for a new deal this current offseason. The Ravens have little cap space, and even less considering the COVID-19 pandemic has lowered the league cap for the first time in a decade.

Baltimore could decide to keep Judon or former Jags edge rusher Yannick Ngaouke by signing one of the impending free agents. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley reported Judon is asking for $20 million a year. Judon fired back that he had not even spoken with the Ravens at the time and there was no truth to the figure. If he is asking anywhere in that range though, the Jaguars are one of the few times who might be able to afford him—albeit on the lower end of the scale—with the most cap space in the league.

The biggest question is do the Jaguars need Judon, especially if he comes with a high price tag? 

In the positions that he plays, Jacksonville has pieces. The front office is different, but it would stand to reason the club is still committed to seeing what can be made of K’Lavon Chaisson. Injuries hampered Josh Allen last season, but his phenomenal Pro Bowl rookie season is still enough promise to expect a return to form this fall. Is it worth the hefty contract to create a top loaded unit?

The reason this remains a possibility is because of Judon’s ability to play all over the field. His presence alone adds depth to three units. If Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Joe Cullen elects to run the scheme within which he has been coaching, it will be a more 3-4 base, 4-3 defense. Judon’s versatility can make him a plug and play player in that sense. And Cullen is the former Ravens' defensive line coach. If he wants to bring in someone he already knows and trusts, Judon could be a very viable option.