Ravens elect not to use franchise tag on Judon, Ngakoue

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Despite much uncertainty at outside linebacker, the Ravens elected not to place the franchise tag on two-time Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon or rush specialist Yannick Ngakoue before Tuesday afternoon’s deadline.

With the salary cap set to be markedly lower than last year’s $198.2 million because of the COVID-19 pandemic, general manager Eric DeCosta hadn’t been expected to use the tag on any of the Ravens’ pending free agents. Tagging Judon for the second straight offseason would have cost just over $20 million while the tag for Ngakoue would have commanded roughly $16 million. According to OverTheCap.com, Baltimore has just over $18 million in cap space based on a projected cap of $180.5 million.

“It’s such a difficult thing because we don’t know what the salary cap is going to actually be yet. We still haven’t been told,” DeCosta said hours before the 4 p.m. deadline. “There are a lot of moving parts, and these things are very fluid. There are a lot of different ways we can go, and we still have time to make those decisions. We’ve definitely talked about a lot of different scenarios with our roster, free agency, players under contract, impending free agents, [and] players available on other teams.”

The decision means Judon and Ngakoue are very likely to hit the open market for the start of free agency next week. The first Ravens player to be tagged since kicker Justin Tucker in 2016, Judon was named to his second straight Pro Bowl this past season despite seeing his quarterback hit and sack totals drop from the 2019 campaign. The 28-year-old edge defender could become the first Baltimore player since offensive lineman Wally Williams in 1999 to not receive a long-term deal after playing on the franchise tag.

The Ravens acquired Ngakoue from Minnesota in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round selection last October, but the former University of Maryland standout didn’t make the impact many anticipated as he registered just three sacks in 11 games including the postseason. Ngakoue played a total of only 41 snaps in the two playoff games, reinforcing the perception that he wasn’t a good fit in Wink Martindale’s defense.

Judon and Ngakoue are just two of five Ravens outside linebackers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next week, a group also including Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, and Jihad Ward. The only outside linebacker with extensive experience under contract for the coming season is 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, who was a healthy scratch for both playoff games in January.

Not counting Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who was tagged as a procedural move, nine players around the NFL received the franchise tag before Tuesday’s deadline. That list included wide receivers Allen Robinson (Chicago) and Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay), two standout weapons who were coveted by Ravens fans and likely out of Baltimore’s preferred price range anyway.

In a move that surprised many, Jacksonville placed its tag on left tackle Cam Robinson. The Jaguars were viewed as a potential landing spot for Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who wants to be traded to a team that will play him on the left side. On Tuesday, DeCosta said there’s no timetable for the Ravens to trade the two-time Pro Bowl tackle — if they move him at all.

“We’ll do what’s best for Orlando, and we’ll do what’s best for the Ravens,” DeCosta said. “These things take time sometimes. A lot of different scenarios in how this thing could play out, but we are blessed to have him on the team. He’s an excellent player. We’re a team that loves offensive linemen and young offensive linemen who are skilled.”