Ravens restricted free agent kicker Justin Tucker hoping for long-term deal

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Three years ago, Justin Tucker arrived in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent from the University of Texas intent on beating out Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff.

Tucker emerged from that training camp with a spot on the Ravens roster and now is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He is poised to become a restricted free agent and could eventually cash in with a lucrative long-term contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid kickers in the game.

Tucker has been one of the NFL's best bargains for years, playing under a three-year, $1.451 million rookie contract that didn't include a signing bonus. That financial situation is about to change, as Tucker has proven he's worthy of a more significant investment after connecting on 97 of 108 career field goals (89.81 percent).

Tucker told The Baltimore Sun from Phoenix, where he's making the rounds at Radio Row in advance of Sunday's Super Bowl, that he's not worried and is upbeat about the next contractual stage of his career.

"I can tell you right now at this point in time for me, it's a matter of letting the process take care of itself," said Tucker, a 2013 Pro Bowl selection. "There's nothing more that I can do at this juncture. I've done everything I can do. What I can tell you is I would be extremely excited and blessed to continue my journey with the Ravens and win a bunch more games with these guys.

"Every single person in this building, I've got a relationship with so many people and there's so much positivity there, I would love to continue to be around. I'll let the pieces of the puzzle come together on their own and we'll see what happens at the start of the league year."

Since Tucker is a restricted free agent, the Ravens have the right to match any competing offer sheet or receive draft pick compensation if he is assigned one of the two highest tenders.

Because Tucker is regarded as a scoring weapon -- he has seven career game-winning field goals and kicked a franchise-record 61-yard field goal -- the Ravens will look to secure his services with enough compensation to give other NFL teams pause about bidding on him.

That would entail assigning him a restricted free agent first-round tender of $3.113 million, so the Ravens would receive a first-round draft pick in exchange for Tucker if they didn't match an offer sheet. Or, the Ravens could use the second-round restricted tender of $2.187 million and get a second-round draft pick if they didn't match an offer sheet for Tucker.

The low tender of $1.323 million includes no compensation if another team signed Tucker to an offer sheet and they didn't match. Those are last year's tender levels -- this year's figures are expected to increase and will be released in March.

Typically, NFL teams are extremely reluctant to do another franchise's negotiating for them. So, the Ravens might be able to keep Tucker for the 2015 season without paying top dollar.

Or, the Ravens could sign Tucker to a long-term contract extension and make him one of the highest paid kickers in the game. That would involve structuring a deal similar to how other top kickers are paid, including the Oakland Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski (five years, $18.9 million, $8 million guaranteed), the Chicago Bears' Robbie Gould (five years, $17.39 million, $8.85 million guaranteed), the Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee (four years, $13.8 million, $4.75 million guaranteed), the New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski (five years, $15.425 million, $5.1 million guaranteed) and the Dallas Cowboys' Dan Bailey (four years, $22.505 million, $7.5 million guaranteed).

"Tucker's definitely in that ballpark with those top kickers," said Joel Corry, who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. "I don't think anyone would give up a second-round pick or a first-round pick for a kicker. One thing the Ravens could do is make him their franchise player next year when he's an unrestricted free agent. They could play this thing out if they want. They can go year to year with him that way. They could also say to him, 'If you want the big long-term deal now, you're going to have to give us a discount.' He's a very talented kicker, so I'm sure they'll want to do business with him at some point."

Tucker would like to sign a lengthy deal and have some certainty about his future.

"Absolutely, I think when you take a step back and look at it from the big picture and think long-term, that would just be great to know what's going to go on for the next several years as opposed to the next few months or next year," Tucker said. "When you think about it from a general perspective, it feels and sounds great for me personally. I've really enjoyed my time in Baltimore and would to continue it. I think it's just a matter of everybody getting something together and discussing it."

Tucker is the second-fastest kicker in NFL history to score 400 points, doing so in 48 NFL games. Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud did it in 47 games.

Tucker made 29 of 34 kicks last season, including 4 of 7 from 50 yards and beyond. He's made 14 of 20 kicks from that range in his career.

"The last three years, it's been a total blessing," Tucker said. "Coming out of school undrafted and getting an opportunity and being able to run with it and being able to share the experiences I've had with great teammates and great coaches, everybody in the building in Owings Mills, top to bottom, it's been a total blessing."

Tucker has a simple, but ambitious goal each season. He wants to be perfect and not miss any field goals.

"The short answer is I just want to improve any way I can," Tucker said. "I really feel like I was firing on all cylinders toward the end of the season. It's a great time to be peaking when you're talking about December football. Right now, I'm taking a few weeks off and I'm going off and trying to not look at a football. Then, I'll jump back into it.

"I tell you guys every single offseason and preseason, my specific goal is to make all my kicks and get as many touchbacks as possible. That would be pretty sweet."

Tucker has a big personal moment coming up this spring. He's engaged to be married toward the end of March to his fiancee, Amanda Bass.

"We're ironing out all those wedding details," Tucker said. "It's been a lot of fun. Of course, Amanda is doing most of the planning. We're enjoying the journey. It's going to be a big party."