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Are Matthew Judon and the Patriots Headed for a Breakup?

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New England Patriots Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon gets ready for Week 1 vs the Philadelphia Eagles

Over the past two seasons, the New England Patriots deviated from their success during Robert Kraft’s 30-year ownership of the franchise. The 2018 Patriots won Super Bowl 53. New England has had no playoff wins since. However, the 2019 and 2021 squads did make postseason appearances. From 2019-to-2021 the Patriots had at least three Pro Bowl players every year. But over the past two seasons, in addition to the team’s 12-22 record, only one Patriot has made the Pro Bowl: Matthew Judon. Now it seems his time in New England could be coming to an end.

Judon signed with New England as a free agent on March 19, 2021. He spent his first five NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, earning Pro Bowl honors each of his final two seasons there. The Patriots paid Judon $56 million over four years to bring his talents to Foxboro. The deal was a win for both sides. The defender earned a handsome paycheck and the Patriots received the production they’d hoped for. He revised his contract slightly in 2023 but it still allowed Judon to become a free agent in 2025.

Matthew Judon set a career-high with 12.5 sacks in 2021. He surpassed that with 15.5 in 2022. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl each year, bringing his streak to four straight seasons. Judon recorded 4.0 sacks in the first 3.5 games of 2023, putting him on pace for 19.4 for the season. Unfortunately, his 2023 campaign ended before halftime of Week 4 when he suffered a torn biceps.

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Judon heads into the final year of his contract. Things are not trending in a positive direction for those hoping the star pass-rusher remains in New England.

From Matthew Judon’s Perspective

In Matthew Judon’s first year with the New England Patriots, he received $20 million in total cash. The only outside linebacker in the NFL to receive more in 2021 was T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Judon has steadily gone down the list of highest-paid OLBs each year since. Judon ranks No. 17 among NFL outside linebackers in cash for 2024 on his current deal. It is understandable if he feels this does not correspond to his production.

Another factor for Judon is his age. Although he showed no signs of slowing down pre-injury, Judon will be 32 years old when the 2024 season begins. He might only have one more big contract remaining. Wanting to maximize guaranteed money makes sense. Wanting to know where he will call home for the next few years does too.

With New England not looking like a legit Super Bowl contender over the next year or two, conservatively speaking, Judon would have better opportunities to win elsewhere. Judon switched teams once already. Judon accepting a hometown discount for a non-contender with a new head coach and new management seems unlikely at best.

When X user Matt Tardiff recently posted that the Patriots need to sign Judon to an extension, emploring them to “pay the man what he wants” Judon himself responded. His response was, “Ion (I don’t) think that’s about to happen.”

From Eliot Wolf’s Perspective

Judon’s reasons for wanting to secure a lucrative extension are possibly the same reasons why Eliot Wolf and the New England Patriots could be hesitant to give him one. He’ll be 32 when the 2024 season starts and played only four games last year. A three-year extension would have him highly paid at age 35. Judon might remain productive for several seasons but it is an expensive gamble for the Patriots.

New England’s defense was excellent last season, even without Judon. If everyone stays healthy in 2024, the unit should be excellent again. The most significant losses to the group were head coach Bill Belichick and defensive play caller Steve Belichick. Even without Judon, the defense could be even better this year based solely on the return of Christian Gonzalez and the development of players like Keion White.

However, anyone watching the 2023 defense noticed Matthew Judon was missed. Judon remained the Patriots leader in sacks until Week 14, despite not having played since Week 4. Joshua Uche’s production took a major hit, partly from the attention Judon attracts on the opposite edge. The lack of pressure also put more strain on a defensive backfield that dealt with injuries (Gonzalez, Marcus Jones), and other issues (Jack Jones, J.C. Jackson). Judon’s value to the group remained unquestionable. New England’s front office must have noticed this as well.

One big question Eliot Wolf must answer is whether a contract for Judon coincides with the Patriots’ window to contend. Will Judon still be productive when New England is ready to start winning? Can he remain disruptive even if he loses a step as he ages?

Resolution Options

Matthew Judon is signed for the 2024 season. He stated he won’t lose money over missing mandatory team activities. He was present for mandatory minicamp and is expected to attend training camp. A holdout situation is not in the cards.

Four ways the contract situation could be resolved:

Sign an Extension – This feels like the least likely outcome, based on Judon’s comment and the conflicting interests of the two sides. Multi-year extensions were given to Christian Barmore, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Jahlani Tavai this offseason. However, Tavai is the oldest of those players and is more than four years younger than Judon. Furthermore, Tavai’s extension was team-friendly, an unlikely scenario for Judon.

Trade Before the Season – Trading Judon before the season is a risk. It would be a tremendous loss to the 2024 team. It is unclear what the return would be, but likely draft compensation. Does that send the right message to the roster or the fans? Not if the return is in Round 3 or lower.

Trade Before the Deadline – The NFL moved the trade deadline back a week, to Week 9 in 2024. By this point in the season, New England could be a surprise contender or already out of the playoff hunt. If the team struggles but Matthew Judon plays well, they could get a nice offer from a contending team, especially if a key player is injured elsewhere. By Week 9 either an extension will have been signed or it won’t happen. Desperate contenders might be willing to overpay for a Judon rental.

Play Out the Season – Judon signed through 2024 and New England can make him honor that contract. Judon “quiet quitting” like Trent Brown seemed to do last year is not a concern. Judon’s played hard throughout his career. This leaves open the option of bringing him back in 2025. If the year goes well a large contract could still entice him to return.

Of these options, Matthew Judon beginning the 2024 season with the New England Patriots, but without a contract extension, is most likely. If he’s healthy and productive, he’ll make a lot of money for himself this coming season. Whether that money comes from the Patriots, or if his season ends with New England, remains to be seen.

Award-winning blogger, Dan's work has also been featured on Fox Sports, Boston Metro, Barstool Sports, MLB.com, and many other outlets.

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