A little less than a month ago, kicker Justin Tucker said completing a long-term contract extension with the Ravens was a matter of when, not if. Both sides now have less than five days to make it happen.
The NFL’s seven “franchised” players have until 4 p.m. on Friday to reach agreements on long-term contracts with their respective teams. If no deal is reached, those tagged will play out the 2016 season under the franchise designation. In Tucker’s case, that would mean making $4.572 million in his fifth NFL season, a nice payday for the prolific kicker but not the outcome either side wants.
The Ravens and Tucker’s agent, Robert Roche, have been having periodic conversations about a new contract for the kicker for months. Both sides have been mum about the talks and there’s no indication that a deal is imminent. However, there remains optimism that an agreement can be reached before the deadline.
That's primarily because deadlines often spur compromise in these situations.
“It shouldn’t be a hard deal to do unless Tucker wants to redefine kicker salaries,” said former football agent Joel Corry, who analyzes and writes about contracts for National Football Post and CBS Sports. “You have a guy that’s the second most accurate kicker in the history of football. He’s in the discussions as the best kicker in the game. You can say [the New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski] is the best, but Tucker is right behind him. So you have to pay him at the top of the market.”
Gostowski, who was franchised by the Patriots in 2015, set the market for kickers last July when he agreed to a four-year, $17.2 million contract extension. The deal carried an average value of $4.3 million and included $10.1 million in guaranteed money, a record for a placekicker.
While neither Tucker nor his agent have said publicly that the goal is to make the 26-year-old the highest-paid kicker in NFL history, Gostkowski’s deal certainly could serve as a template.
“He’ justified in asking to be the highest paid kicker in the league,” Corry said. “If you’re the second most accurate kicker in the history of the league, you can make that argument.”
Tucker, who made the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and emerged as a significant weapon during the team’s Super Bowl season, has converted 130-of-148 regular-season field-goal attempts over the past four seasons. His 87.8 conversion rate ranks second all time to the Dallas Cowboys’ Dan Bailey (90.6).
Tucker also has kicked 10 career game-winning field goals, made all 162 of his career extra-point tries and been among the league leaders in touchbacks. Even in a down year by his standards, Tucker made 33-of-40 field-goal attempts in 2015 with all but one of his misses coming from 50 yards or longer.
Off the field, Tucker has embraced Baltimore, becoming one of the organization’s most popular players and one of the most active in the community.
Team officials have been consistent in saying they’d like to get a deal done with him and at least publicly, the negotiations haven’t grown acrimonious. Tucker has expressed only optimism about his long-term future with the Ravens and he didn’t use his contract status – or the birth of his first child – as a reason to stay away from the team facility during organized team activities or mandatory minicamp earlier this summer.
The Ravens currently have more than $12 million in salary cap space, which gives them enough flexibility to make additions and handle the inevitable roster turnover during the season.
They technically don’t need to lower Tucker’s cap number for 2016. However, a long-term deal would prevent Tucker from being an unrestricted free agent following the upcoming season. It would also open the franchise tag for next offseason if the Ravens wanted to use it on another of their potential free agents.
If the Ravens were to use it again on Tucker in 2017, it would likely cost them around $5.5 million, which could be prohibitive.
In the past, the Ravens have used the franchise tag as a precursor to getting deals done with some of their most productive players. The last four players to get tagged -- cornerback Chris McAlister, pass rusher Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Ray Rice -- have all ultimately agreed to long-term deals.
To get a deal done with Tucker, they Ravens will likely have to offer more than $4 million per season and more than $15 million total. Five kickers – Gostkowski, Bailey, the Green Bay Packers’ Mason Crosby, the Chicago Bears’ Robbie Gould and the Oakland Raiders’ Sebastian Janikowski – currently have deals with a total value of $15 million or more.
“It should get done,” Corry said in regards to the Tucker talks. “I don’t know if it will be on the 12th, 13th, 14th or 15th, but it should get done.”