The Baltimore Ravens are entering one of the most pivotal offseasons in franchise history, as a good chunk of a roster that steamrolled regular season opponents before their AFC Championship Game dud will hit the open market. It can be argued that Justin Madubuike is the most important name in this free agent miasma.
While it took the former third-round pick four years to really flex his muscles as a pass rusher, Madubuike's ascension from good to great was a joy to watch this season. After recording 8.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits in his first three years, the second-team All-Pro beefed those numbers up to 13 sacks and 33 quarterback hits in 2023.
While leaving the only franchise he has ever known, especially when they are poised to once again be among the Super Bowl favorites next year, could be a tough choice for Madubuike to make, he knows this might be his best chance to cash in with a big contract as an NFL player.
"In terms of Baltimore, man, that's home," Madubuike said at Friday's Pro Bowl Games practice. "But, you know, business is business, and that side is going to take care of itself." Madubuike gave the classic deferral to his agent when asked about negotiations with himself and the Ravens.
Ravens free agent DT Justin Madubuike calls Baltimore "home"
Assuming that new defensive coordinator Zach Orr will install a scheme stylistically similar to what former DC and current Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald ran last year, Madubuike's pressure up the middle will be integral to making sure a young, pricy defense can shine.
The franchise tag seems like a move that could make sense for Baltimore at face value, but with how tight the Ravens' cap situation is, Eric DeCosta would need to make multiple concurrent moves just to fit that financial lump sum in the balance books, all while figuring out how to retain names like Patrick Queen and Kevin Zeitler.
If the Ravens want to draft a possible replacement, this is the year to do it. Even with as late a pick as they have, names like Texas' Byron Murphy, Miami's Leonard Taylor, and Michigan's Kris Jenkins could all be worthwhile targets at the end of the first round.
It's reasonable to be worried about Madubuike replicating what he did this season. After all, he did face many backup linemen and quarterbacks, and his pressures this season were a shocking outlier when compared to the rest of his career.
However, 64 pressures signify elite defensive tackle play, and it'll be very difficult to maintain Baltimore's league-best defense without him.