There is no alternative.
The ship has sailed on a long term deal. If the Baltimore Ravens want to keep Matthew Judon in the purple and black, the application of the franchise tag is the only way.
Many will question whether franchise tagging Judon is wise, given the hefty purchase price. According to Over the Cap, placing a franchise tag on Matthew Judon will cost the Baltimore Ravens $16,266,000. A big payday for Judon would force the Ravens to surrender 52.52% of the nearly $31 million of the team’s current available cap space. But the Ravens will still have $14,707,536 remaining in cap space. Baltimore can make dollar-saving moves this offseason to add more space. Baltimore would add an additional $6 million to the team’s cap space by releasing defensive back Brandon Carr. $20 million in cap space should be plenty for a team as strong as the Ravens to address the few needs it actually has.
If the Ravens are not interested in keeping Judon, Baltimore could apply the franchise tag and subsequently trade him. Recent history suggests that Baltimore would find significant compensation for Judon on the market. Just last year, the Seattle Seahawks traded Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and a swap of 2019 third-round picks. Also last year, the San Francisco 49ers acquired Dee Ford from Kansas City for a second-round pick.
Although there may be a load of draft picks waiting for the Ravens should they trade Judon, it is ultimately not worth the risk. Judon is Baltimore’s best pass rusher, lightyears ahead of the others on the roster. Sure, Jaylon Ferguson has a bright future, and Tyus Bowser continues to improve, but neither of them can anchor the pass rush. Judon will be 28 at the start of the 2020 season, and he is just entering his prime. Judon scored a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was named to his first-ever Pro Bowl. The Ravens could sign or draft a new pass rusher to replace Judon, but that move would hardly be a lateral one. The Ravens would be replacing a proven veteran pass rusher with either a cheaper and/or younger option that is liable to flounder in 2020. It is simply imprudent to rely on a dark horse addition to carry the pass rush.
2019 demonstrated Baltimore’s need for stability on the defense. The unit struggled after the departures of key veteran players like Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, and Terrell Suggs and if not for a mid-season rebuild, the Ravens defense would have destroyed Baltimore’s chances at a playoff run. The Ravens need a new Terrell Suggs, a charismatic defensive leader that brings both hard work and swagger to the team. Matthew Judon fills that role. The Ravens must apply the franchise tag to Matthew Judon, and revisit long-term contract negotiations at a later date. Who cares if Baltimore needs to open up the wallet to keep him? There’s no purpose to money unless you spend it.