If the Ravens are going to use the franchise tag on a player this year, kicker Justin Tucker is that guy.
Tuesday is the first day that NFL teams can tag an impending free agent. The Ravens have from now until March 1 to use the tag on Tucker, if they can’t reach a long-term deal with one of the NFL’s best kickers. Here are three reasons why Tucker is the Ravens’ far more likely franchise tag candidate than Kelechi Osemele, the Ravens’ talented free agent left guard – left tackle:
1. Tucker is too valuable, and too young, for the Ravens to lose during free agency.
He is the second most accurate kicker in NFL history. He is a proven clutch performer who has helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl, and he is 26 years old. Tucker figures to have many game-deciding kicks in his future. The Ravens want Tucker making those kicks for them, not someone else.
2. The Ravens want to keep Osemele, but using the tag on Tucker is far less costly.
Franchise-tagged players are given a one-year contract, determined by averaging the top five salaries at their position. While the league has not announced this year’s exact numbers, the franchise tag for kickers is expected to be around $4.5 million. The franchise tag number for offensive linemen is expected to be in the $13 million range. The Ravens don’t have much salary cap flexibility, and are still trying to restructure the contract of quarterback Joe Flacco, whose cap number for next season is $28.55 million. As much as the Ravens want to keep Osemele, they may not be able to afford it.
3. Hitting Tucker with the franchise tag would hardly insult him, although he would prefer a new deal.
Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots is the NFL’s highest-paid kicker, averaging $4.3 million per season. So the franchise tag number would vault Tucker past Gostkowski, and give the Ravens more time to reach a long-term, salary cap friendly deal with Tucker.
Remember playing the game of tag as kids? In this case, even if Tucker is tagged, he wins.