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Eisenberg: Justin Tucker Contract Is About Peace Of Mind


Financially, I didn't see that a whole lot was riding on whether the Ravens and Justin Tucker struck a long-term deal by Friday's deadline.

Either way, Tucker was going to kick for the Ravens for at least one more year, maybe longer, and either way, he was going to be one of the team's highest-paid players.

If he hadn't agreed to terms and played for his franchise-tag-dictated salary of $4.572 million in 2016, then kicked for the Ravens again in 2017 for an even higher tag-dictated salary – a realistic scenario if the sides simply couldn't find common ground – he would have earned more than $9 million guaranteed. That's not a whole lot less than the $10.8 million guaranteed he received in the deal he struck Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

I know, there's a difference between $9 million and $10.8 million, especially to Tucker and his family. In NFL salary-speak, though, it's not a profound difference. 

Knowing their salary obligation would be roughly the same regardless of what happened, the Ravens held the cards in this situation. They had the leverage. I think that's why Tucker's agent told ESPN Thursday that his client would never sign a long-term deal with the Ravens if he didn't sign one by Friday. It was a bargaining tactic, an attempt to establish some form of leverage.

I don't know if it worked, but for whatever reason, the sides did agree to terms Friday, striking a deal that delighted Tucker, honored his impressive career and gave him the peace-of-mind knowledge that he could stop thinking about his contractual situation.

That, in the end, was what these negotiations were mostly about: Tucker's peace of mind. His happiness. A lot wasn't at stake financially, but it WAS emotionally.

Remember, Tucker made the Ravens as undrafted free agent, a status that always makes for a good underdog story but also means you don't make much money, relatively speaking, in your first few years as a pro. That's exactly how chips land on players' shoulders and stay put.

Now four years into his career – four very good years -- Tucker believed his time had come and he had earned the right to get paid. It was important to him because, well, he was right, his record speaks for itself; and also because it would mean he had earned that ultimate measure of respect after not being drafted.

The Ravens could have continued to string him along with the franchise tag in hopes of saving a few pennies, but that wasn't a good idea. We're talking about a player whose leg decides games. "One of the cornerstones of our team," Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said Friday. He needed to be happy.

Wisely, the Ravens elected to adhere to one of the commandments of today's NFL: "Thou Shalt Satisfy Thy Kicker (as long as he's a good one)."

Tucker, a "good one" by any measure, can now he can say he's the highest-paid NFL kicker in terms of guaranteed money.

The Ravens may have waited until right before the deadline because, well, that's when they always seem to strike deals with players they've tagged. Another possible explanation, as I wrote last week, is they could be more determined than ever to control costs after seeing several of their recent major signings go south.

I'm sure they feel good about this one, though, as they should. The last time they invested in a kicker, they quickly regretted it and Billy Cundiff was gone in less than two years, beaten out by Tucker. But unlike Cundiff, who bounced around the NFL before experiencing a career year in Baltimore in 2010, Tucker has been a model of high-end consistency.

The fans enjoy him. His teammates respect him. He loves his supporting cast, which includes long snapper Morgan Cox, holder Sam Koch, Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg and Kicking Consultant Randy Brown.

All the pieces are in place for Tucker, including, now, the contract and peace of mind he has earned.

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