Ravens Could Make Justin Tucker Richest NFL Kicker
When ESPN polled 24 NFL kickers to ask them who the best is at their position, there were only three to receive double-digit votes.
You can probably guess one of them was Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, coming in right behind the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski and just ahead of the Colts' Adam Vinatieri (who Tucker has idolized since high school).
Other NFL kickers recognize Tucker's worth, Head Coach John Harbaugh recognizes his worth, and coming off a weekend where he was an absolute stud while several other kickers choked, you can probably guess where things are headed this offseason when Tucker is scheduled to become a free agent.
"If the Ravens don't sign him to a long-term deal or place the franchise tag on him, he walks," wrote CBS Baltimore's Samuel Njoku. "That would be a disaster for the franchise."
"With the new extra point rule in effect, kickers have become a necessity for all teams and the Ravens currently possess the golden goose. Baltimore will sign him to a long-term deal and it will likely make him the richest kicker in NFL history."
If that is going to happen, Tucker would need to be paid just above what Gostkowski received this offseason when he signed a four-year deal reportedly worth $17.2 million, including a $6 million signing bonus (Tucker certainly noticed the deal).
Tucker has the stats that put him on Gostkowski's level. The Ravens kicker is the NFL's second-most accurate kicker of all time (behind the Cowboys' Dan Bailey). He has connected on 107 of 119 field goals to produce an 89.9 success rate, which is ahead of Gostkowski's 87.1 rate (250 of 287).
Sunday's 52-yard game winner in overtime against Pittsburgh was Tucker's eighth game-winning field goal of his career and 16th converted from 50 yards or beyond.
That's not a bad outing during a Week 4 that Njoku says "fans witnessed some of the worst kicking this league has ever seen.
"Jobs were lost. Teams were devastated. And all because of the smallest guy on the football team. Given the state of their salary cap, the Ravens may be in a bit of a bind for the time being. But you better believe Tucker smells that big payday coming — one that he rightfully deserves."
The Picks Are In: Browns vs. Ravens
Baltimore is the overwhelming favorite to win Sunday's matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
Of the 58 pundits below, 54 believe the Ravens will get their second win of the season and first one at home.
The Baltimore Sun: 7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
"The Ravens' confidence should come not from their recent history of beating the Browns, but from the fact that they did a lot of things well against Pittsburgh. They'll continue the momentum and take down Cleveland behind the running of Justin Forsett and a few big plays on defense." -- Jon Meoli
ESPN: 13 of 13 panelists pick Ravens
"Baltimore has to win this football game. This division is all of sudden starting to pull away from them with Cincinnati. That was a big win for them in Pittsburgh and they got their confidence back. They know they can still be a part to this division [race]. They have to beat Cleveland at home." -- Herm Edwards
CBS Sports: 7 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
"The Ravens might have saved their season winning at Pittsburgh 10 days ago, but they come into this one really banged up. Joe Flacco has little help outside in the passing game. The Browns competed hard at San Diego, but now must go on the road again. Can Josh McCown keep it up? I don't think so." -- Pete Prisco
Fox Sports: 6 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
"The Ravens players have heard the same fact -- the last team to make the playoffs after starting 0-3 was the 1998 Buffalo Bills – for two weeks now. If there's any 1-3 team I have faith in, it's the one coached by John Harbaugh and quarterbacked by Joe Flacco. This team knows adversity and it has found ways – against all odds – so many times before." -- Peter Schrager
NFL.com: 5 of 6 panelists pick Ravens
"This promises to be an ugly affair. Josh McCown was impressive on the road in San Diego. But can the Browns offense, which racked up 432 yards against the Chargers, fly out to the opposite coast and do it again? Baltimore will be coming off nine days' rest and, despite struggles from the secondary this season, showed rays of light in the Thursday Night Football win. With additional rest after an inspiring 150-yard outing, Justin Forsett should get a heavy workload against a terrible run defense that is allowing 4.8 yards per carry." -- Elliot Harrison
ProFootballTalk.com: 2 of 2 panelists pick Ravens
"The Ravens have extra rest and even more motivation to get their first home win of the season and scratch back toward .500. The Browns simply aren't good enough to do in Baltimore what the other Ohio team did there." -- Mike Florio
Bleacher Report: 8 of 8 panelists pick Ravens
"[I]f you're a team decimated by injuries in the passing game that absolutely has to run the ball to succeed, you couldn't pick a better opponent than the Cleveland Browns." -- Gary Davenport
SB Nation: 6 of 7 panelists pick Ravens
Any Way Forsett Doesn't Have Big Day?
If you think about it … if the Ravens are going to lose their top receiver Steve Smith Sr., no week could be better.
The offense will need to lean more heavily on its ground game, and there are few defensive lines that have been leaking more rushing yards than the Browns.
"Is there any way that Forsett doesn't produce huge numbers against the Browns?" asked ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "The statistics certainly say no."
Those stats include Forsett rushing for 119 yards in the two team's last meeting, and the Ravens overall have averaged 144 rushing yards against Cleveland since Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008. Things aren't looking better for the Browns this season, allowing 141.5 yards per game, the second-most in the NFL.
It took a few games, but Forsett and the rushing game seemed to find its stride last week.
"The Browns could be catching the Ravens at the wrong time," wrote Hensley. "Last Thursday night, Baltimore's ground game looked like the one that ranked No. 8 in the NFL last season.
"Typically against the Browns, the Ravens find a way to hit their stride."
Ravens Need Marlon Brown To Step Up
Ever since his rookie season in which he caught a franchise-high seven touchdowns, wide receiver Marlon Brown has been lost in the mix.
His production sharply dropped last year with the arrival of Smith Sr., going from 49 catches for 524 yards to 24 catches for 255 yards and no touchdowns.
But with Smith expected to be sidelined Sunday, Brown gets an opportunity to show he's worthy of more looks like his rookie year.
"Wide receiver Marlon Brown has been a forgotten man in the Ravens offense the past couple of years, but if the Ravens are to move forward in the wake of Steve Smith's injury, Brown will need to be a part of it," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Bo Smolka.
"Brown has struggled to fight off contact at the line of scrimmage and doesn't have the straight-line speed to beat defenders deep. Even on shorter routes, Brown has not consistently gained any separation from defenders, which explains why more balls haven't come his way."