Philadelphia Eagles: Matt Judon is back in play, but is a trade worth it?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

After trading for Calais Campbell over the weekend, the Baltimore Ravens may once again be open to trading Matt Judon, but should the Philadelphia Eagles have interest in the 27-year-old edge rusher?

The Philadelphia Eagles have a ton of needs going into 2020.

From cornerback to wide receiver, free safety, and linebacker, Howie Roseman is going to have to stretch every cent of the team’s $40 million in available cap space to improve the Birds’ roster going into the regular season – not to mention set some money aside to pay all 10 of their potential draft picks barring trade.

But one position that is very much unsettled despite having a slew of bodies already in place is the defensive line.

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With only one defensive lineman of consequence, Timmy Jernigan, set to become a free agent when the league year begins later this month, one would assume the Eagles are more or less set to roll with the players they have, but that may be a bit shortsighted.

You see, in 2019, the Eagles’ defensive line amassed 33 sacks on 1019 defensive snaps, or one sack every 30 snaps. That isn’t horrible and as a whole, as the Eagles ranked 13th in the league in total sacks at 43, but can the team really count on that production moving forward? If historical precedent is of any indication, not likely.

In 2017, the Eagles’ defensive line recorded 33 sacks, 98 QB hits, and a league-leading 290 pressures in the regular season. That number rose to 36.5 sacks,119 QB hits, and 172 total pressures in 2018 thanks in large part to the offseason addition of Michael Bennett, but it dropped down to a three-season low of 33 sacks, 82 QB hits and total 123 pressures in 2019. While those numbers could rebound in 2020, as sack totals are historically unrepresentative of a defensive line’s dominance, can the Eagles really count on a rotation of Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, and Genard Avery at defensive end, and Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, and, um Bruce Hector on the interior?

After letting players like Bennett and Chris Long walk with no clear contingency plan in place, the Eagles are rapidly approaching an inflection point where a depreciation of talent will negatively affect production.

But what are the Eagles to do? Should they push the chip to the table and sign a premier free agent like Jadeveon Clowney to a ‘market-resetting’ deal? What about signing a second-tier free agent like Vic Beasley or Shaq Lawson who fit the scheme, but have never proven they can be reliable starters over multiple consecutive seasons? Oh god, the Eagles wouldn’t bypass the position in free agency altogether and risk addressing the position in the draft, would they?

That would be a nightmare.

*sigh* if only there was another option… oh wait, there is, an option that just became very, very interesting thanks to an agreed-upon weekend trade.

After spending the first three seasons of his pro football career as a part-time player with the Baltimore Ravens, Matt Judon started all 16 games in 2019, and had a career year – amassing 54 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 33 quarterback hits, and a team-high 9.5 sacks. Those numbers would be impressive for an every-down edge rusher, but here’s the thing, Judon wasn’t, not really at least. Because the Ravens play a 3-4 scheme, Judon had a variety of different responsibilities from play to play as an outside linebacker, from setting a hard edge against the run and rushing the passer, to dropping into zone coverage against the pass.

That being said, when actually asked to blitz the quarterback, Judon was remarkably effective – recording 22 hurries, 27 quarterback knockdowns, 16.5 sacks, and 67 pressures on 220 blitzing attempts over the past two seasons.

Just for context, Judon has more sacks, QB hits, and pressures than any Eagle over the last two seasons despite having rushed the quarterback less than both Cox and Graham.

Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 261 pounds, Judon also has the size to hold up against the run as a 4-3 defensive end, if you care about that sort of thing. But let’s be honest, in Jim Schwartz‘s scheme, defensive ends are seldom asked to two-gap against the run. Because of Schwartz’s attacking philosophy, where both ends and tackles are asked to shoot their gaps and attack into the backfield, Judon’s to-do list on any given play would be greatly reduced to one simple ask: Go forward and tackle the ballhandler to the ground.

With solid bend, a relentless motor, and a quicker first step than his 4.73 40 yard dash would suggest, Judon’s style will remind fans in Philly of two-time Super Bowl champion Chris Long, who also rushed off the edge as a quasi-standup linebacker and speedball coming off the edge. Like Long, Judon can win with power, but he’s at his best when he can speed around the edge and get into the backfield faster than a tackle can kick out to stop him. Judon was able to do this as a standup linebacker with the Ravens, but he’d be just as effective, if not even more effective, if asked to rush out of a wide-9 because of how far off the tackle’s outside shoulder he’d line up pre-snap.

A wide-9 works best when its outside edge rushers can get to the quarterback and disrupt his timing. While Judon isn’t a pocket collapser like Cox, Jackson, or Graham, he has the get off to disrupt even the most decisive five-step drop.

So needless to say, Judon is a great player, a 2019 Pro Bowler, and one of the league’s standard-bearer pass rushers. If he is so good, why wouldn’t the Ravens retain him moving forward? Well, they were planning on it, at least until they weren’t.

You see, two days after news broke that the Ravens intended on franchise tagging Judon after his breakout 2019 season, the team pulled off a blockbuster trade to send a fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for 6-foot-8, 300-pound pass rusher de jour Calais Campbell. While keeping both players would make the Ravens front seven among the best in all of football, Cambell’s reported two-year, $27 million contract extension will make that a whole lot harder. Why? Because the Ravens have the third-least cap space of any team in the NFL and can’t afford to pay Cambell and Judon north of $13 million each.

While the Ravens could simply not tag Judon and allow him to hit the open market, there is a world where Baltimore’s second-year GM, Eric DeCosta, could perform a sign-and-trade to a new team on a new contract.

Should the Eagles give their friends down the I-95 a call and finally lock-in the franchise’s next great edge rusher once and for all? It’s complicated.

On one hand, landing Judon on a one-year, prove-it deal makes a ton of sense, if the price is right. But here’s the thing, because of the compensatory pick system, the Ravens would automatically receive a 2021 third-round pick once Judon signs a new long-term deal elsewhere. That means the Eagles would have to give up a 2020 third-round pick at the bare minimum to even give the Ravens positive value. The Ravens could potentially accept less, or a player-plus-picks deal centered around another rusher like Sweat, Miller, or even potentially Barnett, but that opens up a whole new set of questions that become exponentially harder to extrapolate.

If the Eagles opt to trade for Judon, it’s because they believe he’s the long-term answer across from, and heir apparent for, Graham moving forward. If the Eagles sign Judon to a four-year deal, worth as much as $60 million according to Over the Cap, it’s not because they want to retain Barnett past his fifth-year option in 2021. It’s because Sweat, Miller, and Avery aren’t the guy moving forward, and there isn’t an edge rusher available in the 2020 NFL Draft with a higher upside.

That, my friends, is the question Howie Roseman has to answer and answer quick: Who is the Eagles’ next franchise edge rusher.

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Make no mistake about it, if the Philadelphia Eagles enter the 2020 regular season with their current rotation more or less unchanged, they will continue to lag behind 2017’s Super Bowl-winning formula. It’s just a fact. With three starters 29-years-old or older and no elite prospect coming up through the pipeline, pass rusher has to be addressed this offseason. If Matt Judon is the guy, get aggressive, flip a pick, and lock him into a long-term deal, but only if they believe his style of play fits into Jim Schwartz’s scheme long-term. Personally, I see it.