As franchise-tag dramas go, the ongoing stalemate between the Ravens and Justin Tucker is a low-wattage affair.
There's no apparent rancor, no ominous proclamations in the media, no high-stakes, high-noon showdown brewing. It's clear where everyone stands. Tucker, one of the NFL's best kickers, deserves to get paid. The Ravens know they can't do better at the position. They also want Tucker happy because they're going to need him at key moments.
I hesitate even to label it a stalemate, for as Tucker told The Baltimore Sun last month, "it's a question of when, not if" he signs a longterm deal with the Ravens.
It sounds as if the two parties are arranging their football marriage, not debating whether they'll get married. There's a big difference.
Yet they haven't struck a deal yet and probably won't until near the July 15 deadline. Shoot, I guess it's even possible they'll let that deadline pass, meaning the Ravens would pay Tucker his tag-mandated salary in 2016 and tag him again next year with the idea of eventually getting a deal done.
Why the holdup?
Well, for starters, by tagging Tucker the Ravens guaranteed him a significant raise and nice payday – his cap hit for 2016 is among the team's top 10 right now. So he's already getting paid.
But even a nice contract for a kicker doesn't break the bank, so the Ravens aren't under the kind of pressure they faced when they tagged Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in prior years. So much money was on the table then that the team's entire salary cap blueprint depended on it. That's not the case now.
As well, the Ravens aren't caught in a cap crunch. They're well under the league-mandated limit as they near the opening of training camp later this month, leaving them plenty of room to make any moves they could be contemplating, such as adding a starting-caliber inside linebacker.
In other words, they don't have to make a deal with Tucker in order to make other moves.
But of all the reasons potentially causing the Ravens to exercise caution instead of just jumping in and signing Tucker to a longterm deal, one stands above the rest: They really need to make the deal one they won't regret.
Several of their recent big-ticket signings have become problematic fairly quickly – Rice, Eugene Monroe, etc. The team couldn't do anything to avoid the injury and off-field situations that made those deals regrettable, but regardless, the lesson was clear: It's always vitally important that you do as much as you can to limit your liability should things go south ... for whatever reason.
The last time the Ravens signed a kicker to a big contract, they regretted it pretty quickly. Remember the five-year, $14.7 million deal that Billy Cundiff signed after his All-Pro season in 2010? It seemed like a sensible move, but Cundiff was gone before the start of the 2012 season, beaten out by Tucker.
Obviously, the Ravens are going to feel better about investing in Tucker, who, unlike Cundiff, has never wandered from job to job in the NFL, occasionally faltering here and there. Tucker has pretty much traveled a straight line to the top. Yes, he has missed more long-distance attempts than he wants lately, but he's been remarkably consistent overall, exceptional in the clutch, a difference-maker.
He's also one of the team's most personable and interesting players, a fan favorite who has openly embraced living in Baltimore. True, on-field performance is all that matters, but as the franchise cycles beyond the Ray Lewis era, any player with an identifiable personality is a plus.
As mentioned above, an impending deadline tends to generate action in such situations, so that's when something is liable to happen. But no matter what goes down between now and July 15, Tucker is going to kick for the Ravens in 2016. I'm pretty sure he'll be on the job beyond then, too.