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Ravens, Justin Tucker strike four-year deal just before deadline

"At the end of the day, we were able to lock it in," said Justin Tucker after agree to a four-year deal with the Ravens. "I think everybody should be pretty pumped about everything. I know I am." (Kevin Richardson)

Justin Tucker has become one of the best kickers in the NFL by maintaining an approach that demands 100 percent focus on the attempt at hand and not getting overly emotional through the highs and the lows.

As he and the Ravens drew closer to Friday's 4 p.m. deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to long-term deals and the negotiations appeared to be going nowhere, Tucker's composure was challenged like perhaps never before.

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"It's definitely an emotional roller coaster," Tucker said Friday.

A day after indicating he might be done with the Ravens after 2016 without a new deal in place, Tucker finally got what he was seeking: a long-term commitment and the designation of being the highest-paid kicker in the NFL in terms of guaranteed money.

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About a half hour before the deadline, Tucker and the Ravens reached agreement on a four-year, $16.8 million deal with the Ravens that includes $10.8 million in guaranteed money and a $6 million signing bonus. Both are the biggest in NFL history for a kicker.

"You want to talk about getting deals done in the 11th hour? Well, we did just that. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters," Tucker said on a conference call an hour after signing the contract. "I'm definitely very excited. I'm pumped that we were able to get it done. Now we can move forward and focus on what's important. For me, that's making kicks, and for all of us, that's winning games."

The deal capped a difficult couple of days for Tucker, who would have played the season under the $4.572 million franchise tag without an agreement being reached. The two sides had negotiated periodically for months, but Tucker and his agent, Rob Roche, were frustrated with the pace of the talks and had a clear difference of opinion with the Ravens on the kicker's value.

Tucker was so frustrated that he told some people he wouldn't entertain any long-term contract talks with the Ravens after Friday, an ultimatum Roche relayed to ESPN on the eve of the deadline. Negotiations that appeared to be cordial – Tucker told The Baltimore Sun a month earlier that a contract extension was more a matter of 'when' than 'if' – suddenly became heated.

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But that started to change Friday, as it often does ahead of a deadline, with Roche and Ravens chief negotiator Pat Moriarty bridging the gap. Tucker became the fifth consecutive Raven to parlay the franchise tag into a long-term agreement, and the deal was reached with a half hour to spare.

It even left Tucker enough time to get his in-laws Potbelly sandwiches as a thank you for allowing him to use their fax machine.

"I can walk through the hallways of the facilities and bump into just about anybody and there's no animosity," Tucker said. "I think the word of the week if you follow any of this stuff tended to be acrimonious. I think we all wanted to make sure there was no acrimony or animosity from this point moving forward. What's happened in the past couple of days is in the past couple of days and it frankly doesn't matter moving forward."

Stephen Gostkowski had set the market for kickers last July when he signed a four-year, $17.2 million contract extension with the New England Patriots. Gostkowski received a $10.1 million signing bonus, a number that Tucker's new contract exceeds by $700,000. Gostkowski's deal, though, beats Tucker's in terms of average money per year and total contract worth.

Gostkowski, Tucker and the Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby are the only kickers getting paid an average of $4 million per year or more.

Tucker sidestepped a question on whether it was important for him to become the league's highest-paid kicker. Either way, the deal shows how much the Ravens value Tucker, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and quickly became one of its most reliable and clutch performers.

"Justin has become a cornerstone for our team, and we're happy to get this contract completed," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement.

Newsome noted the importance of having the team's kicking battery, which includes punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox, all signed through at least 2019. Both Koch and Cox signed long-term deals with the Ravens in recent months.

The Ravens' motivation all along with Tucker was to keep him off of the unrestricted free agent market, which could have happened as early as next offseason unless the team used the franchise tag on the kicker again.

In four seasons, Tucker has converted 130-of-148 field-goal attempts (87.8 percent), trailing only the Dallas Cowboys' Dan Bailey (90.6) in all-time conversion rate. He's never missed an extra-point try, he's misfired on only six of his 118 attempts from under 50 yards, he's made 10 career winning field goals and he's been among the league leaders in touchbacks.

In many NFL cities, kickers are seen but not often heard. That's never been the case with Tucker, a charismatic Texas native who sings opera, impersonates celebrities and maintains a lively social media presence. Tucker has also been one of the organization's most active players in the community.

In some respects, he arrived in Baltimore at the perfect time. Months earlier, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt against the Patriots that would have forced overtime in the AFC championship game. The 23-20 loss was one of the most difficult in Ravens' history.

The Ravens vowed to stick with Cundiff. However, they invited Tucker, who had a solid college career at Texas, to try out at rookie minicamp.

Tucker made an immediate impression and was signed. He out-performed Cundiff in training camp to win the job and he justified the choice by making 30-of-33 field-goal attempts in his rookie season, and all four of his kicks during the team's Super Bowl run.

Neither he nor the Ravens have ever looked back. And now with Friday's contract extension, there's no need.

"It does me no good as a football player to look in the past and just celebrate, in whatever way, my own accomplishments," Tucker said. "I'll have plenty of time to do that when I retire. Hopefully, that's a long ways away. All I'm focusing on is remaining and becoming, all at the same time, the best player I can be."

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