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The Ravens won't be using franchise tag, but they'll be paying attention to those who do

The window to put the franchise tag on a prospective free agent begins today and continues through March 6. The Ravens don’t really have any decisions to make in regard to their use of the tag, but what happens around the NFL during the two-week window certainly could affect their free-agent plans.

The Ravens have used the tag eight times in franchise history with the most recent occurrence coming in 2016 with kicker Justin Tucker. Much as it was for running back Ray Rice and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the tag proved a precursor to a long-term deal with Tucker. Overall, though, the Ravens have used the tag just once over the past five years.

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None of the Ravens’ 12 pending 2018 unrestricted free agents are logical candidates to be tagged. The closest thing is Ryan Jensen, who is set to become one of the top centers on the open market. However, the cost of placing the franchise tag on an offensive lineman will be $14.7 million, according to overthecap.com. That’s far too rich for a Ravens team that will be tight on salary cap space in its efforts to retool the offense this offseason.

Other teams aren’t as hard up on salary cap space. They can afford to make a sizable one-year financial commitment while still maintaining their financial flexibility for the start of free agency. The Ravens will be paying close attention to those teams over the next two weeks.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and coach John Harbaugh have made clear that the team is focused on getting quarterback Joe Flacco more help this offseason. But right now, it isn’t certain how much help will actually be available on the free-agent wide receiver market.

That’s because the projected top three available receivers — the Miami Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry, Jacksonville Jaguars’ Allen Robinson and Los Angeles Rams’ Sammy Watkins — are all candidates to get the franchise tag, which is estimated at $16.5 million dollars and would keep them off the free-agent market March 14.

The Dolphins and Landry have reportedly been talking about a new contract for several weeks and the talks have seemingly been acrimonious at times. However, Miami is interested in keeping the three-time Pro Bowl selection, who has 400 catches, 4,038 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns in four NFL seasons. The Dolphins, however, are projected to have even less salary cap than the Ravens, so it isn’t clear yet whether a $16.5 million tag is tenable in constructing the roster.

According to ESPN, the Jaguars are expected to use the franchise tag on Robinson if a long-term deal can’t be reached in the next two weeks. Robinson played just one game in 2017 after tearing up one of his knees, but he had a combined 153 catches for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdown catches in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Jacksonville is expected to have enough cap space to accommodate the move.

Watkins might be the hardest situation to predict. He’s shown flashes of brilliance that befit the fourth overall draft pick in 2014. However, the speedster has also struggled to stay healthy at times and he didn’t exactly have a banner first season for the Rams, catching 39 balls for 593 yards and eight touchdown passes. Los Angeles, though, can afford to take a leap of faith because it will have more than $40 million in salary cap space, according to www.overthecap.com.

Even if Landry, Robinson and Watkins all hit free agency, and that seems extremely unlikely, it’s expected to be a weak wide-receiver class. The next-best wide receivers available are Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee, the Seattle Seahawks’ Paul Richardson and Buffalo Bills’ Jordan Matthews along with some salary cap casualties to be named.

It’s not a good list and it could get even worse during the franchise tag window.

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