ESPN projects Justin Madubuike will leave Ravens for rival in gut-punch move

This move would be tough to swallow for Ravens fans.

Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars
Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

The Baltimore Ravens face no greater decision this offseason than identifying what to do with defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. After amassing 13 sacks in what was a season worthy of an All-Pro nod on one of the best defenses in the league, Madubuike is worth a gigantic contract in free agency,

Madubuike might get hit with the franchise tag if the Ravens are unable to get some sort of deal done in the early stages of free agency, but Baltimore's historical trend of letting players test the open market could lead to contenders across the league to throw money at the feet of the former Texas A&M star.

Madubuike would be wise to head to the highest bidder, as he only has one tremendous season and may not get a better chance to cash in this season. In what would be a true nightmare scenario, ESPN projects that Madubuike will make an inter-division move.

ESPN's Matt Bowen (subscription required) believes that Madubuike's best fit would be leaving the Ravens and joining a rival in the Cincinnati Bengals. With Joe Burrow returning to full health and Lou Anarumo remaining as defensive coordinator, getting Madubuike could give them a very legitimate leg up in the AFC North.

ESPN projects Ravens' Justin Madubuike will sign with Bengals

With DJ Reader both injured last season and testing the open market, Cincinnati will spend some resources trying to get better in the trenches. While Madubuike won't be the same run-stuffer as Reader was, lining him up next to Trey Hendrickson could make for a hellacious pass-rush tandem.

While the franchise tag could save the Ravens from this scenario, tagging Madubuike might pay him more than $20 million next season for a team that is already looking for as much spare cap space as possible. Will the Ravens' need for interior pressure overwhelm the price they must pay to keep him?

Bowen seems to believe that many of Baltimore's best defensive names are going to leave for more expensive contracts elsewhere. On top of Madubuike going to the Bengals, linebacker quality linebacker Patrick Queen was linked to the Denver Broncos, while pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney was hypothetically sent to the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens can lose a handful of players on the defensive side of the ball and still have a well-above-average unit thanks to names like Kyle Hamilton and Roquan Smith. The one name who could knock their whole unit down a peg if he leaves is Madubuike, especially if he joins a hated rival.

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