The Ravens' Justin Tucker has not only been one of the league's best kickers in his first two seasons in the NFL, he's also been one of its bigger bargains. Such is life when you originally make the team as an undrafted free agent.
Tucker, who beat out Billy Cundiff for the kicking job as a rookie, signed a three-year, $1.44 million deal with the Ravens before the 2012 season. He's due a base salary of $570,000 in 2014, the final year of the deal, and then he could potentially be a restricted free agent next offseason.
However, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't want things to get to that point. In a story posted yesterday on the team's website, Newsome included Tucker in the group of players that the organization would like to sign to a contract extension before the start of the upcoming season. The other extension candidates that he mentioned – wide receiver Torrey Smith, nose tackle Haloti Ngata and cornerback Jimmy Smith – have been known targets for a while.
Tucker, though, is a new addition to that list, though the Ravens' front office has obviously known for some time now that the kicker is going to need to be well-compensated after he's started his career with two standout seasons.
He's made 68 of 74 field-goal attempts and all 68 of his extra points. He's been clutch, making all four of his field goals during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run and connecting on six career game-winning field goals. He makes them from deep – he's 10-for-11 from 50 yards and beyond – and he's a weapon on kickoffs. He also has entrenched himself in the Baltimore community and is extremely active in various local causes.
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Now, how much will he cost?
That's a tough question to answer, and there's been no indication that negotiations between Tucker and the Ravens have gained a lot of traction to this point anyway.
The other successful kicking members of Tucker's rookie class, a group that includes the Minnesota Vikings' Blair Walsh and the St. Louis Rams' Greg Zuerlein, remain on their rookie deals so there's been no precedent set with those guys.
The going rate for the top free-agent kickers this offseason was around $3 million per season. The Seattle Seahawks signed former Raven Steven Hauschka to a three-year, $9.15 million deal. Nick Folk got a four-year, $12 million pact from the New York Jets. The Carolina Panthers rewarded another former Raven, Graham Gano, with a four-year, $12.4 million deal. Phil Dawson got two years for approximately $6.1 million from the San Francisco 49ers.
As for some of the previous deals for the top kickers, Sebastian Janikowski and the Oakland Raiders agreed to a five-year, $18.9 before last season. Denver's Matt Prater is in the middle of a four-year, $13 million contract, signed in 2012, while the Chicago Bears and Robbie Gould agreed late last year to a four-year, $15 million extension.
Tucker, 24, is younger than the above-mentioned kickers, though he hasn't had the extended success that most of them have. But it would be hard to accomplish much more as a kicker in two NFL seasons than Tucker already has.
Wherever his eventual new deal falls and whenever it gets done, it's probably a safe bet that Tucker will join the hierarchy of the league's highest-paid kickers. And that's probably where he belongs, too.