Patrick Queen is, in Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta’s estimation, one of the NFL’s better weak-side inside linebackers. He’s a “Pro Bowl linebacker in the making.” He’s “got a bright future.”
Queen’s also days away, if not hours, from the Ravens announcing whether his fifth-year contract option, worth a fully guaranteed $12.7 million in 2024, will be exercised. Which means the Ravens drafting Clemson’s Trenton Simpson — another fast, versatile, physical inside linebacker — in the third round Friday night raised some questions about where, exactly, Queen’s bright future is headed.
“Sheesh,” Queen tweeted after Simpson was taken No. 86 overall. Not long after, Queen “liked” a tweet predicting he’d be a future Houston Texan.
In an NFL that has come to devalue off-ball linebackers, the analytically minded Ravens have, somewhat surprisingly, gone the other way. Over the past three years, DeCosta has invested significant capital in the position. Queen was his first-round pick in 2020. Last year, the Ravens sent the Chicago Bears a second- and fifth-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire Roquan Smith. The five-year, $100 million extension Smith signed in January made him the NFL’s highest-paid off-ball linebacker.
The deal gave the Ravens what DeCosta on Thursday night called a “force multiplier.” It also might’ve put a ticking clock on Queen’s time in Baltimore. His value as a trade asset will never be higher than it is this offseason: one more year on a team-friendly rookie contract for a supremely athletic, extremely durable 23-year-old coming off a 117-tackle, five-sack, two-interception, 14-quarterback-hit breakout season.
On Thursday, DeCosta declined to comment on Queen’s option, saying he would address it “as the draft ends.” On Friday, asked again about Queen, DeCosta said the Ravens would decide on his option by the NFL’s Tuesday afternoon deadline.
Coach John Harbaugh said that he talked to Queen this week and that he’s “good.” He added: “The more good players we can have on our team, the more our guys should be happy. So when this guy [Simpson] comes in, all of our players, our linebackers, are going to love him. I know Roquan’s already talked to him. I’d be surprised if Patrick hasn’t talked to him yet. That’s on Patrick, but he’s going to be great in our room. He’s going to be great for our team. Patrick’s going to love him.”
As players, they’re more alike than they are different. Simpson, who graded out as Ravens inside linebackers coach Zach Orr’s top player at the position, according to DeCosta, and was widely considered a second-round prospect, has Queen-like burst. At 6 feet 2, 235 pounds, he ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine — a tick faster than the 229-pound Queen did three years ago (4.5 seconds). Harbaugh called him a “missile.”
Simpson also showed his value as a pass rusher, recording 12½ sacks over his three years and two seasons as a full-time starter at Clemson. While he struggled at times in coverage, Tigers coaches trusted Simpson enough in space to line him up in the slot, typically as an “overhang” defender, on nearly 40% of his snaps in 2021 and 14% of his snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He can play, really, across the board,” Harbaugh said. “He can play from the slot all the way back across to the Will [weak side], and he can play on the edge of the line, so that’s kind of nice. He’s fast. He’s the kind of straight-line, cover-ground kind of guy. He can actually rush. I think when we blitz, he’ll help us. And then special teams — he’s going to definitely be a part of that. … To add that kind of mindset to our defense and our special teams is a big plus.”
Simpson, who’s from Columbus, Georgia, said he models his game after Smith, who stayed in state and starred for Georgia in college. Simpson said it would be a “pleasure” to play with Smith. He also said that he watches Queen’s highlights and that he was “willing to learn from the vets and continue to just have a great career and be a Raven.”
“I’m the most versatile linebacker in this draft, and I’m forever going to believe that,” Simpson said. “We’re going to see in this career of Trent Simpson. You’re not going to regret this pick, and I’m going to maximize every opportunity, and Trent Simpson is going to go down as one of the greats for the Baltimore Ravens, believe that.”
If the Ravens believe that, too, there might not be room for Queen, after all.