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Ravens reach four-year extension with two-time Pro Bowl kicker Tucker

Posted on 24 April 2019 by Luke Jones

In an offseason largely defined by key veteran departures, new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta made sure two-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker wasn’t going anywhere.

The sides agreed to a four-year extension Wednesday that runs through the 2023 season and makes Tucker the highest-paid kicker in the NFL. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal includes $20 million in new money, which includes $12.5 million fully guaranteed and an $8 million signing bonus. Tucker was already scheduled to make $3.05 million in base salary in 2019, the final season of the four-year, $16.8 million contract he signed in 2016 after receiving Baltimore’s franchise tag.

The most accurate kicker in NFL history at 90.1 percent and the consensus best in the game, Tucker is the first kicker in league history to produce six seasons  of 30 or more field goals, illustrating how critical he’s been to Baltimore’s success upon arriving as a rookie free agent in 2012. Tucker also owns 13 career game-winning field goals, which includes his dramatic overtime winner in the 2012 divisional round at Denver. Since 2012, he leads the NFL with 237 field goals made and is second in points (952).

The 29-year-old also owns a record seven games with two or more field goals of 50 or more yards and is 20-for-24 from 50-plus yards since 2016.

Despite missing just the first extra point and first postseason field goal of his career this past year, Tucker was a 2018 first-team All-Pro selection and twice named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He went 35-for-39 on field goals with two of the misses being blocked and the other two coming from 53 and 65 yards. The Texas product and Super Bowl XLVII champion also tied his own single-season franchise record with 141 points scored for the third consecutive season.

A fan favorite known for his quirky personality and impressive singing voice, Tucker is the fifth-longest-tenured Raven behind only punter Sam Koch, guard Marshal Yanda, long snapper Morgan Cox, and cornerback Jimmy Smith. That continuity with Koch and Cox — a trio long nicknamed the “Wolfpack” — has given head coach John Harbaugh one of the top special-teams units in the NFL for years now.

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Ravens long snapper Cox invited to Pro Bowl for second straight year

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite missing the playoffs, the Ravens will have an even stronger presence at the Pro Bowl after long snapper Morgan Cox was added as a “need” player on Wednesday.

For the second straight season, Cox was invited to take part by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as he continues to be viewed as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The seven-year veteran will join kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker C.J. Mosley as participants while veteran guard Marshal Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, will not take part because of a shoulder injury.

“Playing in the Pro Bowl for a second time is a huge honor for me,” Cox said in a statement released by the team. “All the hard work that we put into this game is validated when you receive such an honor. I’m proud to represent a great organization like the Ravens, who are among the NFL’s best.”

Cox has snapped for two other Pro Bowl selections — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Sam Koch last season — and will have the opportunity to play with his kicker in the Pro Bowl later this month. Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl in late December and credited Cox’s work for making that possible.

This past season, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee played in every game, snapping on all 80 punts, 39 field goal attempts (38 successful), and 27 extra points (all converted).

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Tucker living up to big contract and then some for Ravens

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Kickers are a volatile bunch, making a long-term investment in one a risky proposition.

Former Pro Bowl selection Blair Walsh lost his job earlier this season just 16 months after Minnesota made him one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL. Former Raven Billy Cundiff’s infamous miss in the 2011 AFC Championship came one day shy of exactly a year after he’d signed a five-year extension on the heels of a Pro Bowl campaign.

It’s safe to say Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has lived up to his record-setting contract and then some in the first season of a four-year, $16.8 million that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker. His near-perfect season was recognized Thursday when the local media voted him the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season.

Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl last week and has missed just one field goal in his last 19 games dating back to last December. He’s quite a weapon for an offense that struggled frequently in 2016.

“It is not only his volume of work; it is the kicks he has made in circumstances and yardage,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He has had a lot of long range kicks, a lot of wind and things to deal with in the stadiums we have played in. He has been spot-on. He has been excellent.”

An MVP honor being given to a kicker is viewed by many as an indictment on the rest of the 53-man roster — especially when it happens twice in four years — but that sentiment shouldn’t diminish Tucker’s greatness in 2016. Despite being tied for 26th in touchdowns scored this season, the Ravens could thank their kicker’s incredible consistency for keeping them in the playoff hunt until Pittsburgh eliminated them last Sunday.

Tucker has gone an exceptional 37-for-38 on field goal attempts with his only blemish a 34-yard attempt that was blocked on an impressive display of athleticism from New England’s Shea McClellin in Week 14. Twenty-four of those successful field goals have been from 40 yards or longer as he regularly turned drives stalling short of the red zone into valuable points.

He’s one of only five qualified kickers not to have missed an extra point this season, and he and Dan Bailey of Dallas are the only full-time kickers not to have missed one since the extra point became a 33-yard try last season.

Of the Ravens’ six wins by a single possession in 2016, Tucker hit three or more field goals three times and at least two field goals in all six. He’s also hit two game-winning field goals in the fourth quarter this season, extending his reputation for delivering in clutch situations. And after receiving some criticism for going just 8-for-19 on tries from 50 yards and beyond in the previous two seasons, Tucker has gone an amazing 10-for-10 on attempts from that long range in 2016.

In other words, Baltimore having no more than an average kicker this season would have likely resulted in a losing season and elimination from playoff contention a couple weeks sooner.

Upon being named team MVP, Tucker was sure to credit long snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch as well as Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown for their parts in his success, but the most accurate kicker in NFL history deserves the praise he’s received and then some.

“We have a great group around here, and I can’t brag on them enough,” Tucker said. “To be able to turn our hard work into accolades is very cool, but at the same time, we know we still have work to do.”

Tucker hasn’t done it alone, but he’s the one making the big bucks.

And he was worth every penny in 2016 as other teams around the league experienced headaches at the kicker position.

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Ravens ink Pro Bowl long snapper to five-year extension

Posted on 07 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens retained another key member of their special teams Monday by announcing a five-year agreement with long snapper Morgan Cox.

The 2015 Pro Bowl selection was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday, but Baltimore has instead locked up the veteran snapper after placing the franchise tag on kicker Justin Tucker and re-signing special-teams standout Albert McClellan earlier this offseason. Cox has served as the Ravens long snapper since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2010.

“People who study the game know how good Morgan is, and he was certainly deserving of a Pro Bowl honor last year,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said in a team statement. “His consistency is what makes him a great player, and his role in working with both Sam [Koch] and Justin is instrumental to the reliability of the trio.”

Cox has remained one of the most consistent long snappers in the NFL despite suffering torn anterior cruciate ligaments to both knees over the course of his career. The first came in 2010 when Cox tore his left ACL early in the second quarter of a game in Cleveland and managed to finish the rest of the game, a feat that earned him the Ed Block Courage Award.

The 29-year-old injured his right ACL midway through the 2014 season, but he made a full recovery in time for training camp last year.

“I’m looking forward to spending the next five years in Baltimore surrounded by the greatest teammates, coaching staff, and fans in football,” Cox stated. “The Lord has blessed me beyond measure during the last six years, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.”

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Pro Bowl just not worth effort for anyone

Posted on 27 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Against my better judgment, I watched some of the Pro Bowl draft.

Because I had nothing better to do on a Wednesday night was excited to know whether Ravens specialists Sam Koch and Morgan Cox would be drafted to opposing teams, I attempted to watch ESPN’s coverage and expected clever trash talk and over-caffeinated enthusiasm for a fake football game. What I witnessed was something different entirely.

It was dull — painfully dull.

No fun.

The highlight was New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reminding his top receiver and Pro Bowl captain Odell Beckham Jr. why it was wise to draft him, quipping that he could have 100 catches or no catches next season. But everything else reeked of just going through the motions and running out the clock for the two-hour special.

Hoping to at least come away with some sarcastic fodder for Twitter, I instead tapped out after 32 minutes that felt much longer than that. Credit ESPN for producing a nice little segment recognizing a surviving veteran from the attack on Pearl Harbor with the 75th anniversary coming later this year, but the rest of the coverage from Hawaii felt as pointless as the upcoming game itself.

With no disrespect intended to the Ravens’ four selections — we learned that Cox and Elvis Dumervil are on Jerry Rice’s team and Koch and Marshal Yanda were chosen for Michael Irvin’s team — the Pro Bowl just isn’t worth anyone’s time or effort. More players than ever are declining the invitation and now even one of the Pro Bowl head coaches — Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy — is missing the game due to an illness.

Why again should fans bother watching on Sunday night if so many players don’t even care to show up?

Since the NFL scrapped the traditional AFC-NFC format — which at least provided some semblance of a rooting interest — the TV ratings for the game have declined sharply over the last two years, but enough are still watching. To each his own, I suppose, and the league will probably continue to hold the event if it’s profitable.

Still, it feels so pointless holding an exhibition game with players — the ones who actually bother to show up — competing at less than full speed while still putting themselves at risk for injury. It’s bad enough when a star player suffers a serious injury in the preseason when he’s at least preparing for a new year, but how would a team and its fans like to lose a standout performer to a torn ACL now with a recovery timetable that would bleed into the start of next season?

The idea of the Pro Bowl is far superior to the real thing. The Ravens have had at least four players selected for the game in each of the last 10 years — an impressive run that reflects their overall team success — but the honor itself isn’t worth putting players in harm’s way.

The league can continue on with the annual all-star game and probably still fool enough people into watching — because it’s the almighty NFL — but it just isn’t worth the effort for anyone involved.

And Wednesday’s draft sure made it feel like no one really wanted to be there.

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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 long snapper Cox selected to first Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will have another player joining guard Marshal Yanda and punter Sam Koch in Hawaii later this month as long snapper Morgan Cox was added to the Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday.

Selected by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid to play for one of the teams, Cox will be joining Koch as a first-time Pro Bowl selection. Long snappers are not part of Pro Bowl balloting, but each coach is permitted to take a long snapper as a “needs” player for the game, which will be played on Jan. 31.

“I’m humbled by the honor of being selected as a Pro Bowl long snapper,” Cox said in a statement in which he also thanked his coaches as well as Koch and kicker Justin Tucker. “I’m especially proud to be a part of the most elite special teams unit in the NFL. A special ‘thank you’ goes out to our fans for all of their love and support. Ravens fans are the best in the world.”

Having spent the last six seasons with Baltimore, the undrafted free agent from Tennessee has been one of the NFL’s most consistent long snappers despite suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear to each knee over the course of his career. The first came in Cleveland late in the 2010 season when Cox tore his left ACL early in the second quarter and managed to finish the rest of the game, which included snaps on a field goal, two punts, and two extra points. The feat led to him being chosen as the Ravens’ 2011 Ed Block Courage Award winner.

The 29-year-old also tore his right ACL midway through the 2014 season.

Cox has snapped for two Pro Bowl kickers — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Tucker in 2013 — and will now have the opportunity to play with his Pro Bowl punter in Honolulu.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Specialists

Posted on 29 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this week, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on Thursday, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore specialists:

SPECIALISTS (5)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Justin Manton, Patrick Scales

Synopsis: With veteran punter Sam Koch locked up to a contract extension earlier this month, the Ravens couldn’t find any less drama with the specialist positions as all discussion will center around the kickoff and punt return jobs this summer. Those spots are wide open with younger players such as Michael Campanaro and DeAndre Carter and veterans like Steve Smith and Lardarius Webb firmly in the mix, but the trio of true specialists are as safe as ever in beginning their fourth straight year together.

One to watch: Whether it’s with a contract extension or via the franchise tag, Justin Tucker knows he’s extremely unlikely to be going anywhere next year, but the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker will still have his uncertain future on his mind entering his fourth season. His 89.8 percent success rate is tops in NFL history among kickers with a minimum of 100 field goal attempts, but he’ll face the challenge of an internal balance between wanting to become the highest-paid kicker in the league with simply continuing the success he found in his first three seasons. Given his resolve, it would be unwise to bet against him.

One on notice: If Morgan Cox had been more limited this spring in coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury, Patrick Scales would have been a name to watch this summer, but the veteran long snapper appeared close to full strength during workouts. Barring something unforeseen, Cox isn’t in much danger since he has an affordable contract and is as reliable as they come.

Sleeper: None

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Ravens announce deals for long snapper Cox, defensive tackle Bilukidi

Posted on 17 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens announced a pair of re-signings on Tuesday, coming to terms with long snapper Morgan Cox and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi.

General manager Ozzie Newsome reportedly struck a deal with Bilukidi a couple weeks ago, but the signing had yet to be announced. The defensive tackle had been scheduled to become a restricted free agent.

Cox has served as the Baltimore long snapper for the last five seasons, but the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career limited him to just seven games in 2014. It was unclear whether the Ravens would re-sign the unrestricted free agent after tendering a contract to exclusive-rights free agent Patrick Scales.

Because the 28-year-old suffered the season-ending knee injury in Week 7 of last season and has already been rehabbing for several months, he will likely be ready for training camp, but the presence of Scales does provide insurance as well as competition while Cox works his way back to 100 percent.

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