The franchise tag season has officially begun.
Today marks the first day that teams around the NFL can apply the franchise tag to one of their key free agents. Teams have until March 2 to determine whether they will use the tag.
The Ravens' most likely candidate to receive the franchise tag is wide receiver Torrey Smith, who is set to hit the market after scoring 30 touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons. Running back Justin Forsett could also be in the discussion after a breakout season where he rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns.
The tag is essentially a one-year deal that pays a player the average of the top five salaries at his position. Players and teams generally prefer not to go the route of using the franchise tag because it's a significant hit against the salary cap for the team, and there's no long-term guarantee for the player.
The franchise tag can also be used as a tactic to buy more time at the negotiating table with pending free agents. It would keep a player like Smith from hitting the market, and then allow the Ravens to continue negotiations without another team entering the discussion.
Even if the Ravens used the franchise tag this year, they would still have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. Baltimore has gone that route in the past, most recently with running back Ray Rice in 2012.
Here's the full history of the Ravens using the franchise tag:
1998: OL Wally Williams
Williams played that year under the franchise tag, and then signed a five-year contract with the Saints after the season. He is the only player in team history to be franchised and not eventually sign a long-term deal.
2003-2004: CB Chris McAlister
The talented cornerback played the 2003 season under the franchise tag and was then hit with it again the next season. McAlister went on to sign a new long-term contract during the 2004 season, as the rules permitted in-season negotiating with franchised players at that time.
2008-2009: OLB Terrell Suggs
The pass rusher played the 2008 season under the franchise tag and was then hit with the tag again. The second franchise tag gave the two sides more time to negotiate, and Suggs eventually signed a six-year deal reportedly worth $63 million before the 2009 season.
2011: DT Haloti Ngata
The Ravens tagged Ngata in February before the NFL went into a lockout, and then the two sides went back to the negotiating table after the NFL reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Ngata and the Ravens eventually came to an agreement on a five-year deal before the franchise tag deadline.
2012: RB Ray Rice
The Ravens applied the franchise tag to Rice after going into the 2012 season, but the two sides continued to negotiate and came to a contract extension just before the deadline.