Only once in Ravens team history have the Super Bowl champions not ultimately signed their franchise player to a long-term contract.
That happened following the 1998 season when offensive lineman Wally Williams joined the New Orleans Saints on a five-year, $18.5 million deal after playing a final season in Baltimore as the Ravens' franchise player.
"That was back in the early stages of the franchise tag," Williams said. "You got to keep your player, but there was also a financial gain for the player. At the time, I was young and you have all these emotions built up. I was an undrafted player. I wasn't a first-round draft pick. I hadn't been to any Pro Bowls. There were a lot of different emotions for me. It ended up working out well for both sides, but the player has to be in agreement with the organization and on the same page. It's a lot of money involved with the franchise tag.
"I was the only one that didn't do a deal with Baltimore after getting tagged. I don't know what happened with me, but I guess the numbers got too high for them or whatever. It's a business call. That's what it was for me, but I'm the only guy that didn't get that long-term deal from the Ravens. I actually got this from Brian Billick. I had a meeting with him when I was trying to make a decision about free agency. He said, 'I understand there's a time for pay and a time for play. Right now it's pay time for you.' That was the first priority at that time."
Today marks the first day that the Ravens can use the franchise tag on quarterback Joe Flacco, whose rookie contract has expired.
Flacco is seeking top dollar and talks have yet to pick up, but might do so later this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
If the Ravens are unable to sign Flacco to a long-term deal, they're expected to use the franchise tag to retain him. They have until a March 4 NFL deadline to do so.
Traditionally, the Ravens only use the franchise tag close to the NFL deadline after exhausting negotiating sessions.
Flacco is coming off a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player performance in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans where he passed for three touchdowns and no interceptions to cap a record-tying postseason where he had 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
"You can't have any more leverage or a better situation that where Joe is right now," Williams said. "He has all his ducks aligned. He has some strong negotiating leverage behind him. As long as Joe and his agent (Joe Linta) and the team have some understanding about moving forward and can get a deal done, the franchise tag is just to keep people from bidding on you. You work out a deal.
"Joe doesn't want to leave. You want to build a legacy. Joe doesn't want to go anywhere. So, you can work something out. Everybody is contemplating what figure and the average of what Drew Brees makes and Peyton Manning. I heard as low as $16 million and as high as $22 million per year. That's a lot of money either way. The bottom line is they want to sign him. As a player, what you're worried about is the guaranteed money between $50 million and $60 million. What everybody is missing out on is it's about that guaranteed money, what you can put in the bank immediately."
If the Ravens have to franchise Flacco, at a cost of $20.46 million for an exclusive franchise tender or $14.6 million for a non-exclusive franchise tender, then it will likely cost the team some players in terms of not being able to retain unrestricted free agents like Ed Reed, Cary Williams, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe or restricted free agents as well as players currently on the roster like wide receiver Anquan Boldin and fullback Vonta Leach. Signing Flacco to a long-term deal before free agency begins March 12 would improve the Ravens' tight salary-cap situation.
"That's the hard part about this," Williams said. "You have to make decisions on players not because of their skill, but because of their money. You lose guys like Anquan Boldin who want to stay and have expressed their passion to do that. That's what the guys upstairs in personnel have to do. They have to make those tough decisions, and it's hard. That's why this is indeed a business.
"When you have a huge contract in the making like what Joe Flacco is going to get, you know the roster is going to change. It's a quarterback-driven league. It's an offense-driven league. You have to have that quarterback in place. The Ravens know that. That's why this thing will eventually get done. They get it, they understand how important Flacco is."
Here's a look at the Ravens and the history of the franchise tag, which they may have to use to hold onto Joe Flacco:
Year Player Position Result
2012 Ray Rice Running back
Minutes before an NFL deadline last July, Pro Bowl runner signed a five-year, $40 million maximum value deal that included a total of $24 million in guaranteed money with a $15 million signing bonus.
2011 Haloti Ngata Defensive tackle
Pro Bowl defensive lineman signed a five-year, $61 million contract that included $37.1 million in guaranteed money, including a $25 million signing bonus. The deal was reached on Sept. 21, again shortly before an NFL deadline.
2008, 2009 Terrell Suggs Outside linebacker
Pro Bowl pass rusher signed a six-year, $63 million contract in July of 2008 negotiated by the late agent Gary Wichard after twice being designated as the Ravens' franchise player. The deal included $38.1 million in guaranteed money, including a $10.1 million signing bonus.
Suggs went on to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year during a 2011 season where he recorded a career-high 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
2003, 2004 Chris McAlister Cornerback
Named the Ravens' franchise player for two consecutive seasons, the now-retired Pro Bowl defensive back signed a seven-year, $55 million contract halfway through the 2004 season.
1998 Wally Williams Offensive line
After playing one season for Baltimore as their franchise player, Williams signed a five-year, $18.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints and left the Ravens. The retired lineman is the lone player in franchise history to be named the franchise player and leave town without signing a long-term deal with Baltimore.
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