It's clear that coming off a 5-11 season, the Ravens have some tough decisions to make regarding their 2016 roster. To be sure, injuries were a huge part of the story this past season, but there figures to be significant roster turnover after one of the worst seasons in team history. And as always, the salary cap will have a major influence on how the Ravens go about constructing their 2016 roster.
Over the past two weeks, we have been examining each Ravens position group with an eye toward 2016. Who stays? Who goes? Today we wrap up the series with the specialists.
Under contract: Sam Koch
Unrestricted free agents: Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Restricted free agents: None
Exclusive rights free agents: None
The Ravens have some work to do with the Wolfpack will return intact next season. Kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox are both set to hit free agency next month, but don't expect that to happen -- in Tucker's case at least.
The Ravens have one more week if they want to use the franchise tag on Tucker, which is expected to cost about $4.5 million. That would keep Tucker off the open market, and the Ravens would then have until July to work out a long-term deal to keep one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history in Baltimore.
That's what the Patriots did last year with Stephen Gostkowski, who received the franchise tag last winter and then signed a four-year, $17 million deal (about $10 million guaranteed) last July. That should give a decent idea of what Tucker's services will cost the Ravens.
Tucker uncharacteristically struggled outside 50 yards this season, going 4-for-10, but he remains one of the league's most clutch kickers. He has 10 game-winning kicks, and his career percentage of .878 still ranks second-best in NFL history (min. 100 attempts).
At the State of the Ravens news conference in January, general manager Ozzie Newsome said, "We would like to have Justin continue to be a part of our football team. We will go to work on trying to get a contract done. We do know what the franchise number is for a kicker, if it gets to that."
The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 1. Unless the Ravens have a deal in place before that, expect them to use the tag on Tucker.
Cox was hardly noticed all season, which is why he made his first trip to the Pro Bowl. It will be interesting to see if a Pro Bowl trip leads to a bigger payday on the free agent market, but it's never a huge market for long snappers, and the Ravens like what they have in Cox and vice versa.
Punter Sam Koch also is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, and is in the second year of a five-year deal he signed last summer. He has set a Ravens record by appearing in 160 consecutive games, and there's no reason to think that streak won't be extended next season.
Overall, the odds are good that the 'Wolfpack' -- as this specialist trio has dubbed itself -- will return intact in 2016. And it will be Tucker's turn to buy dinner, because he's about to land a big payday.