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Eisenberg: Thankfully, Ravens Avoid Franchise Tag Drama Again


The dead of summer is a whole lot less dead this week for the five NFL teams that put the franchise tag on players in March.

The Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have had months to negotiate long-term deals with the players they "tagged," but the deadline for reaching an agreement is fast approaching (Wednesday), so the heat is on figuratively as well as literally here in the middle of July.

If a team and its tagged player can't agree to a long-term deal by the deadline, the player will compete in 2015 on a one-year tender, his long-term future with his team all the more uncertain.

It's the NFL's version of summer-stock theater – a loud, overheated drama that goes on too long.

The Ravens have hosted their share of such grim, deadline-oriented presentations over the years, most recently in 2012, when they put the franchise tag on Ray Rice in hopes of eventually getting his name on a long-term deal. (How long ago does that seem?) Before that, they tagged Haloti Ngata in 2011, Terrell Suggs in 2008 and 2009, Chris McAlister in 2003 and 2004 and Wally Williams in 1999.

I don't know about you, but I'm appreciating the peace and quiet of a tag-free summer in 2015.

Instead of the football storm a tag produces, we're getting a lot of real storms, the wet kind. My gutters are weary, but I'm OK with it.

The tag drama is a messy endeavor no one likes.

Players don't like the tag because it gives a team additional leverage and they could be forced to sign a one-year tender for a lot less guaranteed money than they would get if they signed a long-term deal.

Teams don't like it because using the tag means they've so far failed to lock up a player they want to keep. It's also always expensive to pay a tagged player, as his tender price is the average of the top five salaries in the league at his position – very high.

Fans don't like it because, well, most fans just want a thumbs up or down on whether any player is going to be on their team, and the tag clouds the issue.

It's been a piece of the NFL's financial puzzle since 1993, but the tag's popularity seemingly peaked a few years ago. The Ravens were one of 13 teams to use it in 2011, and one of 19 teams to use it in 2012.

Since then, though, perhaps because it generates so much acrimony and lately leads to many players eventually leaving, far fewer teams have employed it as a last-resort option for holding onto guys they can't lock up. Only eight teams used the tag in 2013. Just four used it in 2014. This year, it's five.

To see what we're missing in Baltimore this summer, check out the headlines emanating from Dallas, where the Cowboys are trying to sign their star receiver, Dez Bryant, before Wednesday's deadline. Threats and questions are flying. Will he sit out training camp if he doesn't get a long-term deal? Will he pout all year? Where will he play next year?

The same questions are circulating about Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston, New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski and New York defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, whose tag situation was made murkier by a recent fireworks accident in which he lost a finger.

The Ravens are enjoying a quiet summer because they balked (understandably, I think) at paying the extremely high one-year tender prices for potential tag candidates such as receiver Torrey Smith and linebacker Pernell McPhee, who hit the open market and signed big contracts elsewhere. In recent years, they've locked up potential candidates such as tackle Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta before they had to use the tag.

Going forward, the deal they made with cornerback Jimmy Smith this offseason removed another potential 2016 tag candidate from their checklist, leaving kicker Justin Tucker as the most real possibility. Tucker is under contract for 2015, but he could hit free agency after that, and while signing a long-term deal is the desired resolution for both sides, there's no telling what could happen. The Ravens don't want to lose him, and the tag could buy them another year.

For everyone's sake, here's hoping they figure something out and the summer of 2016 is just as quiet.

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