Tag Archive | "Justin Tucker"

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Ravens kicker Tucker officially signs franchise tender

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Luke Jones

A week after becoming the sixth player in Ravens history to receive the franchise tag, kicker Justin Tucker officially signed his tender.

The team announced Friday that Tucker signed his franchise tender worth $4.572 million, diminishing the possibility of the fifth-year kicker holding out like other franchise players have done in the past. Of course, the Ravens would like to sign the 2013 Pro Bowl selection to a long-term extension to lower his hefty salary cap number for the 2016 season.

The sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement before the 26-year-old would be forced to play out the season under the franchise tag amount.

Tucker is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history

 

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Seven Ravens takeaways from NFL scouting combine

Posted on 28 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As the 2016 NFL scouting combine winds down in Indianapolis, we came away with plenty of headlines related to the Ravens as the countdown to the start of free agency and the new league year continues.

Below are seven takeaways from the week:

1. The Joe Flacco contract talks between the Ravens and agent Joe Linta have appeared to be more harmonious than expected. Given the acrimonious negotiations from three years ago, you had to wonder how willing Linta and Flacco would be to cooperate since they once again have all the leverage like they did in 2013 and didn’t have to touch the original six-year, $120.6 million deal. But more signs were pointing to an agreement eventually being reached as the weekend concluded in Indianapolis, which reflects the comments Flacco made earlier this winter in which he acknowledged wanting to win and his $28.55 million salary-cap figure making that difficult. Nothing is official, but the Ravens appear closer to gaining much-needed space to maneuver with free agency rapidly approaching.

2. On the other hand, Justin Tucker receiving the franchise tag early meant a deal wasn’t close. Tucker’s agent, Robert Roche, announcing on Friday that the kicker had been tagged wasn’t surprising after general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated on Wednesday that the Ravens would use it if a long-term agreement wasn’t reached. The organization hasn’t announced the move — probably because it doesn’t want the $4.572 million franchise amount to kick in against the cap any earlier than Tuesday’s deadline — but the early nature of the decision reflects how far apart the sides remained. The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with Tucker before he must play out 2016 for the tag amount, but it would be in Newsome’s best interest to strike a deal sooner rather than later to clear cap room.

3. Baltimore sounds perfectly convinced that Lardarius Webb will be the answer at safety this season. Despite the 30-year-old having a $9.5 million cap figure for the 2016 season, the Ravens were once again adamant that they view Webb as a starting safety. Asked whether he was comfortable with Webb having a cap number that would put him among the most expensive safeties in the league, Newsome went as far as to say it’s a “very good number” when you consider what this offseason’s top safeties are expected to fetch on the open market. Still, it’s a risky assumption to think Webb will play at a level deserving of that kind of price tag. What the Ravens’ stance might mean for the roster standing of other safeties such as Kendrick Lewis, Will Hill, and Matt Elam will be interesting to watch.

4. Concerns remain about wide receiver Breshad Perriman. It’s been seven months since the 2015 first-round pick partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, but Newsome indicated he has yet to be fully cleared, which is an all-too-familiar update. The general manager noted Perriman’s smile and good spirits around the team’s Owings Mills training facility in recent weeks, but Newsome only saying he anticipates “at some point this spring that he’ll be out there ready to play” leaves plenty of room for doubt. The Ravens should be looking for another speed receiver to add to the mix, but the passing game needs Perriman on the practice field as much as possible since we’re talking about a player who isn’t yet a proven commodity at the NFL level.

5. The tight end position suddenly doesn’t look so deep anymore. Even with Dennis Pitta likely to be cut if he doesn’t retire, the Ravens appeared to be in great shape at the position. But with the suspended Nick Boyle’s “double down on dumb” — in John Harbaugh’s words — and Crockett Gillmore undergoing surgery on each shoulder that could sideline him into training camp, the Ravens may need to add another tight end to the mix after all. There is plenty of talent at this position, but Gillmore’s health concerns and Boyle’s ban for the first 10 games of the regular season will leave Maxx Williams as Baltimore’s only sure option during spring workouts. The team could re-sign a fringe guy like Konrad Reuland, but drafting a tight end in the later rounds now appears more likely than it did a few weeks ago.

6. Depth at running back won’t be a problem. The group could grow if 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson is added to the mix, but Harbaugh reiterated on Thursday that Justin Forsett “certainly fits the bill” of a starter and is “absolutely” expected to be part of the team in 2016. Of course, you never know for sure with the Ravens’ cap situation, but that should answer questions about his roster standing as he carries a $3.7 million cap figure for the coming season. The Baltimore coach didn’t go as far as anointing Forsett his starter for 2016, but you just didn’t see quite enough from Buck Allen as a rookie to assume he’s ready to become a No. 1 back. It will be fun watching a group that already includes Forsett, Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West compete for playing time this summer.

7. It’s all about the defense in this draft. The Ravens have needs on both sides of the ball after a 5-11 season, but the combine reiterated just how deep this draft is with defensive talent compared to the other side of the ball. Many mock drafts continue to link Baltimore to Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley — especially if Kelechi Osemele isn’t re-signed — but there are so many directions Newsome can go in finding a high-impact defensive player. Whether staying put at No. 6 or moving up or down in the first round, there are intriguing pass rushers (Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, and Shaq Lawson), talented cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, and Mackensie Alexander), and even a dynamic linebacker (Myles Jack) who could be sitting there for a defense in need of a game-changing talent.

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Ravens place franchise tag on Tucker, per his agent

Posted on 26 February 2016 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — The Ravens have followed through with general manager Ozzie Newsome’s vow to use the franchise tag on kicker Justin Tucker if a long-term agreement couldn’t be reached by month’s end.

Tucker’s agent, Robert Roche, announced via Twitter that Baltimore has placed the franchise tag on the 26-year-old ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for NFL teams to use the designation. Newsome said Wednesday in Indianapolis that the Ravens would use the tag with the intention of signing the 2013 Pro Bowl selection to a long-term deal.

The fact that the Ravens have used the tag with a few days to spare indicates that an agreement on a long-term deal wasn’t close.

The franchise tag for kickers and punters is projected to be around $4.5 million, which would not do their salary cap any favors as the Ravens began the week projected to have the second-lowest amount of cap space in the NFL. Teams must be in compliance with the salary cap when free agency begins on March 9, but the cap has yet to be set for the 2016 season.

A framework for a potential long-term deal with Tucker was created when New England signed longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski to a four-year, $17.2 million deal last summer, which made him the highest paid at his position in NFL history. Baltimore have until July 15 to sign Tucker to a long-term extension to avoid him playing out the coming season under the franchise amount.

Tucker is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas in 2012. However, he struggled on field goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond in 2015, going 4-for-10 while missing only one attempt inside 50.

Newsome has signed the last four players on which he’s used the tag — running back Ray Rice, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and cornerback Chris McAlister — to long-term contracts.

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Ravens now on clock to use franchise tag on Tucker

Posted on 16 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Tuesday brought the beginning of a two-week window in which NFL teams may use the franchise tag, and the Ravens are likely to go that route with Justin Tucker if the sides can’t strike a long-term deal.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker would figure to be in high demand, but the Ravens can use the franchise tag on him if an agreement can’t be reached by 4 p.m. on March 1. The franchise tender for kickers and punters last year was set at $4.126 million and is projected to climb to $4.5 million for the 2016 season.

“We will go to work on trying to get a contract done,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. “We do know what the franchise number is for a kicker, if it gets to that. But we will go to work on that, and we want Justin to be a part of our team.”

Using the franchise tag on a kicker or punter has been a common occurrence among teams due to the reasonable cost compared to other high-profile positions. A kicker or punter has received the franchise tag from a team in seven straight offseasons with New England’s Stephen Gostkowski receiving it last season.

In fact, the Patriots and Gostkowski provided a framework for the Ravens and Tucker after the sides agreed to a four-year, $17.2 million deal last summer, the richest contract ever awarded to a kicker. Should they use the tag, the Ravens would have until mid-July to sign Tucker to a long-term extension to avoid him playing out the 2016 season under the franchise amount.

Despite his struggles from 50 yards and beyond in 2015 (4-for-10), the 26-year-old Tucker is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas in 2012.

“My agent and [the Ravens] have been talking on and off for the better part of a year, year and a half,” Tucker said in early January. “At this juncture, I’m kind of letting it all just unfold how it’s going to unfold, and I’m optimistic that something will get done.”

If he does receive the franchise tag, Tucker should remain confident in his future with Baltimore as Newsome has eventually signed the last four players on which he used the tag — Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Chris McAlister — to long-term contracts. Suggs and McAlister were each tagged in consecutive seasons before receiving lucrative deals.

Offensive lineman Wally Williams was the only player not to sign a long-term deal with Baltimore after playing under the franchise tag during the 1998 season and departing for the New Orleans Saints the following year.

Some fans have asked why the Ravens wouldn’t consider using the franchise tag on free-agent offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, but that would cost more than $13 million for the 2016 season, an unreasonable price for a team already dealing with significant salary-cap problems.

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Ranking the Ravens’ special teams needs for 2016

Posted on 23 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Special teams are cut and dry for the Ravens this offseason.

They don’t need to mess with a good thing when they were the consensus choice as the best special-teams unit in the NFL in 2015. Keeping the group together will be the challenge.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the finale of a three-part series — we’ve already looked at the offense and defense — I offer my thoughts on the special teams and rank the greatest needs.

1. Re-sign Justin Tucker

The 2013 Pro Bowl kicker isn’t going anywhere despite going only 4-for-10 from 50 or more yards this past season. Tucker missed only one field goal inside 50 all year and that came when the turf at Levi’s Stadium swallowed his plant foot on a 45-yard attempt in Week 6.

It will simply be a matter of whether the Ravens can sign the 26-year-old to a long-term contract or they’ll be forced to use the franchise tag, which was $4.126 million for kickers in 2015.

New England’s Stephen Gostkowski received just over $10 million guaranteed last year, so you’d have to think Tucker is looking for something in that neighborhood. We’ll see if general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are willing to give it to him.

2. Long snapper

To be clear, longtime snapper Morgan Cox remains the Ravens’ top choice, but they were able to re-sign the veteran to a small one-year deal this past offseason as he was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Of course, long snappers don’t make lucrative money, but Cox’s $665,000 salary cap figure for 2015 tied for 22nd among NFL snappers, according to Spotrac.com. If Cox is looking for a substantial raise after making his first Pro Bowl, you wonder if the Ravens would consider going with a younger and cheaper option due to their tight cap situation.

But you’d hate to test the chemistry of a superb trio that also includes Pro Bowl punter Sam Koch.

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Special teams elite once again for Ravens in 2015

Posted on 20 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lacked the playmakers to win consistently in a 5-11 season that included 14 games decided by a single possession, but how did they remain competitive despite having 20 players on injured reserve?

The special teams were once again huge for Baltimore in 2015.

So huge in fact that longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News named special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s group first overall in his annual rankings, which consist of the league’s 32 teams being ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing in each. According to Gosselin, the Ravens finished in the top 10 in 14 of the 22 categories to win in convincing fashion while the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Dallas, and Philadelphia rounded out the top five.

The Ravens have now finished in the top five in Gosselin’s rankings in four straight seasons. And if you’re skeptical of only one grading system’s results, Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus also graded Baltimore’s special teams as the finest in the NFL this season.

With punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox each going to their first Pro Bowl, the Ravens were especially proficient in the punting categories. They finished second in the NFL in net punting average and allowed only 5.0 yards per punt return, which was best in the league.

The Ravens also became the first team since Atlanta in 1983 to block a kick — a punt, extra point, or field goal — in five straight games from Oct. 26 through Nov. 30, a streak that culminated with Will Hill’s game-winning 64-yard return for a touchdown off a blocked field goal on the final play in Cleveland.

Special teams rarely grab headlines, but the Ravens earned four of their five victories on the final play of the game with three Justin Tucker field goals and Hill’s return, making you wonder where they might have been with lesser contributions in that area. Rosburg and his special teams deserve plenty of credit in an otherwise-lost season, so it’s fitting that two of his key players will make the trip to Honolulu.

 

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Ravens-related thoughts from wild-card weekend

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Some have perceived a softer culture for the Ravens since Super Bowl XLVII, but Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict reminded us Saturday that there’s a fine line between attitude and recklessness.

Baltimore may lack the big personalities and swagger that it once had on the defensive side of the football, but the Bengals linebacker has proven time and time again that you simply can’t trust him. His personal foul on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown on Saturday was just the latest example of a player lacking any regard for others on the field and playing too recklessly in a critical spot. This came after replays showed him driving his knee into the right shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger on the sack that took the Steelers quarterback out of the game.

The Ravens are no strangers to Burfict’s antics as offensive lineman John Urschel pointed out the hit on rookie tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17 on Sunday. Former Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith called Burfict a “dirty” player last season, and ex-Ravens Ray Rice and Bobbie Williams had issues with the Bengals linebacker in his rookie season.

To be clear, the Ravens would benefit from having more attitude on the defensive side of the ball. They certainly would like to have the play-making ability demonstrated by Burfict on his late interception that looked like it would seal the Bengals’ first playoff win in a quarter-century before Jeremy Hill’s fumble.

But the famous rant from Mike Singletary describes Burfict perfectly: “It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners.”

Intimidation and ferocity have been traits of many great players over the years, but only when those qualities can be harnessed, something Burfict was incapable of doing when it mattered most.

Was Mallett watching?

A fake Ryan Mallett Twitter account garnered some attention during the Houston Texans’ embarrassing 30-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, but you hope that the real Mallett did reflect as Brian Hoyer turned in one of the worst playoff performances by a quarterback in recent memory.

It’s fair to point out that Hoyer posted a solid 91.4 passer rating this season, but Mallett had a golden opportunity in Houston that he completely squandered as he’s more physically gifted than the Texans’ current starter. There’s no way to know for sure if Mallett would have fared any better against the Chiefs, but Houston was a much better opportunity for him than Baltimore in terms of playing time if he’d simply been more of a professional.

To his credit, Mallett has done all of the right things since signing with the Ravens, but Saturday should have been a reminder to him of what might have been. Now, he plays for a team that strictly views him as a backup behind an entrenched franchise quarterback.

He’ll be lucky to receive another opportunity like the one he had in Houston, but you hope he’s learned his lesson if that day does come.

Thankful for Tucker

While many thought of Billy Cundiff when Minnesota’s Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot that would have won the game for the Vikings, the reliability of Justin Tucker also came to mind.

To be fair, Walsh is a former Pro Bowl kicker and had missed just one kick inside 30 yards in his four-year career, but the 2012 sixth-round pick had also failed to convert four extra points this year, showing he hadn’t been as reliable from shorter distances. Meanwhile, Tucker has never missed from inside 30 in his NFL career and has missed just one field goal try inside 40 yards in his four seasons.

A miss such as Walsh’s could happen to anyone — these guys are human, after all — but Sunday likely reminded general manager Ozzie Newsome how lucky he’s been to have Tucker and how the Ravens can’t afford to let him go this offseason despite his issues from beyond 50 yards this past year.

Winning trumps all 

With John Harbaugh and the injury-ravaged Ravens speaking so much about their heart and resiliency at the end of the season, you hope that they take some notes from the Chiefs as they won their 11th consecutive game on Saturday.

At one point, the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost their best player — four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles — to a season-ending knee injury in October, but Andy Reid’s team did more than just to keep fighting and to play teams close every week. Of course, the Ravens weren’t as talented as Kansas City and lost the likes of Joe Flacco and Steve Smith as the season progressed, making a turnaround of that magnitude virtually impossible.

But you also don’t want players to take too much satisfaction from a 5-11 record, no matter who was on the field by season’s end.

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Ravens switching to natural grass at M&T Bank Stadium next year

Posted on 04 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will switch to a natural grass field at M&T Bank Stadium next year after using an artificial surface for the last 13 seasons.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the change on Friday as the Ravens will play their home games on natural grass for the first time since 2002. Discussions began months ago with players having input in the decision.

“It kind of epitomizes what Baltimore is all about, the history of football in Baltimore,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged he might have lobbied for the change. “To me, a Baltimore football team should be playing on a grass field in Baltimore. It’s kind of a recognition of that.”

With safety a major topic of discussion as it relates to concussions and lower-extremity injuries on artificial surfaces, most Ravens players welcome the news of being able to play home games on softer natural grass. Among AFC North division foes, Pittsburgh and Cleveland have grass surfaces while Cincinnati plays on an artificial surface.

Currently, seventeen teams in the NFL play their home games on natural grass.

Having suffered anterior cruciate ligament tears to both knees during his seven-year career, cornerback Lardarius Webb was among the many players pleased with the decision to make the switch next season. Over the years, veterans have often lamented the wear and tear of practicing on the harder artificial surface in the field house compared to working on their three outdoor grass fields at the Ravens’ Owings Mills practice facility.

The Ravens maintain that their field is among the best artificial surfaces in the league, but the preferences of players and coaches were clear.

“With my surgeries that I’ve had, I can tell after the game if I’ve played on that hard turf or have played on grass,” said Webb, who suffered ACL tears at M&T Bank Stadium in 2009 and 2012. “It’s a black-and-white difference. I just walked off practice and I can tell the difference from practicing on the turf field and outside [on grass]. It’s just a difference.

“We’re looking at the numbers. They say injuries happen more on turf than on grass. Simple as that.”

The Ravens played on natural grass at M&T Bank Stadium from the time it opened in 1998 through the 2002 season, but insufficient sunlight led to concerns with the consistency of the field, especially in the later weeks of the season. This led to the decision to install Sportexe Momentum Turf for the 2003 season, which was used until 2010 when the Ravens switched to the updated Shaw Momentum 51 turf.

According to Harbaugh, the organization has done extensive research on what type of grass to use as well as on ways to work around the sunlight concern, which would include using artificial light and replacing sod in the middle of the season if necessary. The natural surface will be a mix of Bermuda grass and some rye grass, which would be consistent with what the team has used for its practice fields in Owings Mills.

“There’s been a lot of technological advances with the grass from what I’m told in terms of the way our stadium is configured,” Harbaugh said. “It doesn’t get a lot of sun. That was something that was a big consideration as far as the turf originally. But our grounds people have done a great job of researching it and they feel like they have the type of grass now that can thrive in there.”

Justin Tucker is taking a wait-and-see approach on how the natural surface might impact the kicking game, especially in harsh conditions when a natural surface can deteriorate rapidly.

The fourth-year kicker has made 10 of 15 field goal tries at home in 2015, with all five misses from 50 yards or beyond. In his career, Tucker has gone 56-for-69 on field goal attempts at M&T Bank Stadium compared to making 65 of 69 on the road.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up throughout the course of a season,” Tucker said. “I welcome the challenge. For me, I don’t think it really matters too much. It only matters if you let it matter. We’re going to do the exact same thing we always do and prepare every single game for the surface that we’re playing on.

“Maybe we’ll just kick on grass a little bit more.”

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Tucker not escaping Ravens’ list of struggles in 2015

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Luke Jones

All three of the Ravens’ victories in 2015 have come on a Justin Tucker field goal on the final play of the game, but the fourth-year kicker wasn’t all that happy after Sunday’s 16-13 win over St. Louis.

Despite making the game-winning 47-yarder as time expired, Tucker missed two kicks from 51 yards earlier in the day with the second coming with just 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. The misses continued a concerning trend for the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker on attempts from 50 or more yards where he has gone just 2-for-7 this season.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this upset or mad after hitting a game-winner,” Tucker said on Sunday, “but this is kind of uncharted territory for me — and Morgan [Cox] and Sam [Koch] — all of us together. To be able to bounce back like that though, it’s definitely satisfying.”

To be clear, Tucker’s struggles are relative to the many kicking issues we’ve witnessed around the NFL. The 26-year-old has failed only once inside 50 yards all year, which was a 45-yard miss when he stepped into a large divot with his plant foot at Levi’s Stadium against San Francisco in Week 6.

Simply put, Tucker is still one of only a few kickers around the NFL who you want lining up for a huge kick late in a close game. However, his six misses in 10 games — he’s 22-for-28 in 2015 — have already surpassed his total in any of his first three full seasons in Baltimore.

Many have pointed to a declining success rate from 50 yards and beyond since his rookie season when he was a perfect 4-for-4. There was no significant drop-off during his Pro Bowl campaign in 2013 when he was 6-for-7 from 50-plus, including a game-winning 61-yarder at Detroit on Monday Night Football.

In 2014, Tucker was just 4-for-9 from 50 yards or longer, but all five of those misses came from 54 or longer, a reflection of the Ravens’ confidence in allowing him to try kicks from greater distances. The University of Texas product still went 3-for-3 on kicks from 50-53 yards, making those overall numbers less concerning.

Entering a contract year in 2015, Tucker has misfired on five tries from 50 or greater. But unlike last season, he hasn’t attempted most of those from exaggerated distances and is just 2-for-6 on tries from 50-53 yards.

How does head coach John Harbaugh — a longtime special teams coordinator in Philadelphia — explain Tucker’s two misses from 51 yards against the Rams in Week 11?

“There’s the hold, there’s the snap, the whole thing goes together,” said Harbaugh, who has shared his thoughts with Tucker. “There’s the wind. There’s the footing. All those things are a factor, no question, but the swing mechanics are the main thing. It’s not hard to see when the swing mechanics aren’t what we would be looking for or what he would be looking for. To my eye, that’s what happened in the game [Sunday].”

After Sunday’s game, Tucker acknowledged the challenges of kicking at M&T Bank Stadium where the open corners of the upper deck can lead to swirling winds. The kicker said he didn’t hit the first attempt well, but the second miss from 51 was struck “right on the screws” before it “just leaked” due to the wind.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Tucker is expected to seek a contract that would make him one of the highest-paid kickers — if not the highest paid — in the NFL. If the sides cannot agree to a deal in a timely fashion, the Ravens could use the franchise tag as the franchise tender at the kicker position was a reasonable $4.126 million in 2015 and wouldn’t increase dramatically next year.

Even if he’s been more erratic from beyond 50 yards since his remarkable Pro Bowl season, Tucker remains one of the best kickers in the NFL, making it unlikely that the Ravens would allow him to depart after the season. But it’s clear he has a high standard for himself that he hasn’t quite reached in 2015.

“I’ve been doing this long enough now to know at our stadium, I’ve just got to hit [what] we like to call a ‘Dawg Pound’ ball like we’re kicking into the ‘Dawg Pound’ in Cleveland,” said Tucker, alluding to the difficult conditions in FirstEnergy Stadium late in the season. “It’s a slightly different ball that you’ve got to hit. You just get it up over the line and make sure it goes straight. That’s basically what I’ve got to do moving forward, regardless of the distance of the kick.”

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Ravens couldn’t be further from “paradise” right now

Posted on 22 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Upon being inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime on Sunday, former Ravens safety Ed Reed ended his brief speech by belting out the refrain from “Two Tickets to Paradise,” conjuring memories from the franchise’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens couldn’t be further from that paradise almost 34 months later after losing Joe Flacco — the MVP 0n that memorable night in New Orleans — to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the final drive of the 16-13 win over St. Louis. Of course, Baltimore’s 2015 playoff hopes were all but officially gone long before Flacco and 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett suffered season-ending injuries on Sunday, but losing your franchise quarterback to a serious injury rocks an organization from top to bottom.

The season from hell continues.

“I’m probably still in shock a little bit,” said Flacco, who started the Ravens’ last 137 games counting the playoffs and will now miss the first action of his eight-year career. “You play football and you play as long as I have and you play as hard as we do out there, then stuff like this happens. You have to just stand tall and be tough about it.

“That’s all you can do.”

At 3-7 and now preparing for the final six games with veteran backup Matt Schaub at the helm, the Ravens will play out the string with eyes pointing squarely toward the future and an unsettling offseason. In addition to improving a roster lacking game-changing talent on both sides of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome will need to renegotiate Flacco’s contract that carries a $28.55 million salary cap figure in 2016 while not knowing for sure if the veteran signal-caller will be ready for the start of next season.

Until Flacco is healthy and back under center, the Ravens won’t be able to help but feel there’s a black cloud hanging over their heads.

In the meantime, the Ravens and their fans will receive a glimpse of life without their franchise quarterback. Troy Smith was the last quarterback not named Flacco to start a regular-season game for the Ravens when Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden was playing in his final game and Brian Billick was coaching his last contest on Dec. 30, 2007.

Jettisoned by Houston and Oakland in the last two years, Schaub will now be asked to compete without the Ravens’ top two receivers (Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman), top two running backs (Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), and starting center (Jeremy Zuttah) entering training camp. Frankly, it’s a near-impossible situation for a 34-year-old many feared had already reached the end of the road as an NFL quarterback before signing a one-year deal to back up the durable Flacco.

The Ravens may be fortunate to win another game the rest of the way, which would at least help their position in the 2016 draft after the most disappointing season in franchise history. From that perspective, the ugly win over the Rams on Sunday felt more like a loss, especially after learning of Flacco’s injury minutes after Justin Tucker’s game-winning 47-yard field goal.

Anyone watching the Ravens play in 2015 knows the problems run deeper than a slew of injuries to impact players such as six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, tight end Dennis Pitta, Smith, and now Flacco and Forsett, but it’s difficult to recall too many NFL teams suffering such a number of injuries to high-impact players in recent memory. At least an already-poor record numbs the disappointment of losing Flacco compared to if the Ravens had been 7-3 and just seen their Super Bowl aspirations crushed on Sunday like Arizona experienced losing Carson Palmer to a torn ACL last November.

But you still can’t help but feel like the Ravens are snakebitten.

“I guess when it rains it pours,” outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “We’ve been dealing with it all year, from Suggs to Steve. It’s tough. … Nobody feels sorry for us. We’ve got to make sure we come out and prepare hard.”

What’s next?

Many wondered how the Ravens would respond to last week’s gut-wrenching loss to Jacksonville and if they would continue to compete in the way they have all season with one-possession outcomes in every game. Baltimore flirted with the wheels completely falling off the cart for much of Sunday’s game with more than 100 yards in penalties in the first half and scoring just three points through three quarters.

Receiving plenty of help from the sloppy Rams, the Ravens managed to pull out their third victory of the season by making fewer mistakes than their opponent in the end. But without Flacco — or Forsett — for the rest of the season on top of their many other injuries, when will enough finally become enough physically, mentally, and emotionally?

“It’s tremendously disappointing for those [injured] guys,” said John Harbaugh, who will coach his first game without Flacco under center next Monday night in Cleveland. “We’ll be fine as a football team. We’ll bounce back — that’s what you do. Matt Schaub can play quarterback, and he’s going to come in [and] he’s going to play very well.”

If only it were that simple, but what else can the Ravens coach really say at this point?

The Ravens were reminded on Sunday that it wasn’t that long ago that they reached paradise in raising the second Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

But less than three years later, that memory feels a universe away.

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