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.