Justin Tucker deserves to be made one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL by the Ravens.
In fact, the 26-year-old has a good argument to top the list as he enters his fifth season as the second-most accurate kicker in league history among those with 100 field goal attempts. There’s no disputing the value he’s brought to Baltimore with only six career misses inside 50 yards and just one over the last two seasons combined.
But as Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline to sign franchise-tag players to long-term contracts rapidly approaches, general manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t feel too desperate to get a deal done. Even with Tucker’s $4.572 franchise tender currently on the books, the Ravens have almost $13 million in salary cap space, more than enough to make another veteran signing or two and to have flexibility going into the regular season when injuries are bound to occur.
The franchise amount would give Tucker the second-largest cash payout among kickers for 2016, behind only Green Bay’s Mason Crosby after he signed a long-term deal this winter. That outcome would hardly be a sign of disrespect for Tucker, who was originally undrafted from the University of Texas in 2012.
Despite Tucker expressing nothing but confidence this spring about a long-term deal getting done, it remains unclear what he and agent Robert Roche are asking for in terms of compensation. The four-year, $17.2 million deal with $10.1 million guaranteed signed by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski — a four-time Pro Bowl selection — last summer would appear to be a fair framework, but the Ravens shouldn’t feel obligated to set a new standard for kickers if that’s Tucker’s vision.
Kicker success can be fleeting — don’t forget that Baltimore signed Billy Cundiff to a five-year, $15 million deal just one year before his fateful miss in Foxborough — and it’s worth noting that Tucker has gone only 8-for-19 from 50 or more yards over the last two seasons. His incredible accuracy inside 50 cannot be discounted, but the Ravens would surely like to see him rediscover some of the long-ball success he displayed over his first two years when he went 10-for-11 from 50 or longer.
That’s a reasonable expectation if Tucker is looking to become the highest-paid kicker on the planet. And it’s fair to wonder if that’s the sticking point if the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker is seeking a lucrative and trend-setting contract.
Tight end clarity
Much has been written about the Ravens’ extensive depth at tight end, but these types of competitions often have a way of sorting themselves out as we witnessed with 2015 sixth-round pick Darren Waller being suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy earlier this month.
This news coupled with the 10-game suspension for second-year tight end Nick Boyle will make for some easier roster decisions for the Ravens, who already have Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta on the depth chart. What remains to be seen is whether there will be roster room — or enough forgiveness — for Waller and Boyle when their bans expire.
This is Boyle’s second suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy while Waller is facing his first NFL discipline after being suspended twice at Georgia Tech for testing positive for marijuana.
One who fortunately got away
Remember when the Ravens signed Rolando McClain to potentially take over for Ray Lewis in 2013 before the troubled linebacker got arrested and abruptly retired? Remember how they gave the former Oakland Raider another chance a year later before he flopped during a workout and retired again?
Newsome netted a sixth-round pick by sending McClain and a seventh-round choice to Dallas in the summer of 2014, but the Ravens clearly dodged a bullet with the 26-year-old now being suspended for a second time with the Cowboys for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
The Ravens may currently face uncertainty at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley, but McClain did them a favor — twice — by demonstrating his lack of commitment to be a successful NFL player. He’s played well at times over the last two years, but he’s fortunately the Cowboys’ problem and wasn’t worth the trouble.