Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots linebacker Matt Judon is having an MVP-caliber season in New England, leading the re-emergence of that defensive unit after spending his entire career in Baltimore. It's an outcome the Ravens could have prevented.

Judon's heart was in Baltimore, with him telling many Ravens teammates he did not want to leave, loving his time with the organization, and emerging as a team leader and top performer since being selected in the fifth-round out of Grand Valley State in 2016. And, sources said, Judon gave the Ravens the opportunity to match the Patriots' offer or make a last counter-offer of some sort; management declined, sighting a need to reallocate resources to other needs and positions, and Judon accepted New England's offer and thrust himself into mastering Bill Belichick's system.

The Patriots and several rebuilding teams were pursuing Judon most aggressively, as the Ravens did not make a substantial push to retain him despite his import, and he ultimately signed a long-term deal with New England that, at its core, is worth $32M guaranteed for two years. That's less per year than the fully guaranteed adjusted franchise tag value Baltimore agreed to pay Judon in 2020 ($16.8M), a decision that has greatly benefitted New England thus far.

Judon has been one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL, shining in coverage, setting the edge and making piercing plays against the run and already racking up a career-high 11.5 sacks, third in the NFL, and more than twice as much as any Ravens player. The Patriots defense ranks third in the NFL in yards allowed per play (Baltimore is 30th). Tyus Bowser, who the Ravens extended for far less than Judon's salary, has emerged as one of the Ravens best players, and the team is very excited about the future of young edge presence Odafe Oweh, who they selected in the first round this year, although poor tackling and communication issues have led to the Ravens giving up more big plays than almost every team in the NFL as they seek to improve in the playoff chase.

While the Ravens and Patriots do not meet in the regular season, the potential exists for a playoff meeting between Judon and his former coaches and teammates.