The Baltimore Ravens designated outside linebacker Matthew Judon as their 2020 franchise player, according to executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta.
The franchise tag, which will cost the Ravens just over $16 million, will also allow DeCosta more time to possibly work out a new deal for Judon.
However, the designation doesn't mean he will remain with the team. The Ravens could consider trading Judon if they get an appealing offer of drafts picks.
Baltimore currently has just over $37 million in salary-cap funds with the recent retirement of offensive lineman Marshal Yanda.
Judon is coming off one of his finest seasons, leading the team with 9.5 sacks and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. He also ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits.
Over the past three years, Judon has recorded the Ravens' most tackles for loss (41) and sacks (24.5). In his four-year NFL career, he owns 28.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
As a result, Judon has put himself in position for a huge payday.
Za'Darius Smith, who was the Ravens' sacks leader in 2018, signed a four-year, $66 million deal the Green Bay Packers as a free agent. Judon might command a similar contract if the Ravens to reach an extension.
After this past season, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said re-signing Judon was a key priority this offseason.
"We're going to try to get as many of these guys re-signed as we can. Matt [Judon] is probably right at the top of the list, for sure," coach John Harbaugh said. 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 with back and forth and all that.
"So, 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. That's what we'll try to do."
Judon was selected by the Ravens in the fifth round (146th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. He made almost an immediate impact. Even if the Ravens retain Judon, they'll still need to add another edge rusher via free agency or the 2020 NFL Draft.
“The better I play, the better our team plays, the more it helps me out with the contract,” Judon said earlier this season. “I am not really thinking about that. I have a job to do every day. How selfish would it be for me and to all these guys if I’m just out here pouting about some money?
“I am blessed to be here. So, I am just going to soak it up and take every advantage and opportunity I have to play hard and have fun with my guys.”
The Ravens have previously placed the franchise tag on six players:
- G/C Wally Williams – 1998
- CB Chris McAlister – 2003 and 2004 (McAlister signed a long-term contract in October, 2004.)
- OLB Terrell Suggs – 2008 and 2009 (Suggs signed a long-term deal prior to the start of the 2009 season.)
- DT Haloti Ngata – 2011 (Ngata signed a long-term contract in September, 2011.)
- RB Ray Rice – 2012 (Rice signed a long-term deal prior to the start of the season.)
- K Justin Tucker – 2016 (Tucker signed a long-term deal in July, 2016.)