Will Ravens Use Franchise Tag On Any Free Agents This Year?
The window to designate franchise or transition tags to impending free agents opens Wednesday (Feb. 15-March 1), but don't expect the Ravens to jump into the action.
Baltimore has a history of using the franchise tag, usually as a way to buy more time for contract negotiations. The Ravens did it last year with kicker Justin Tucker, and in previous years with cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and running back Ray Rice.
Will they use that tactic again this year?
"It seems highly unlikely," The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wrote last month.
Given how expensive the franchise tag is – the average of the five largest salaries over the last five years at the designated player's position – applying it must make financial sense. This year, defensive tackle Brandon Williams represents the best candidate to be franchised, but even he is unlikely.
Let's break it down below, with the projected tag numbers from CBSSports.com's salary-cap guru and former NFL agent Joel Corry:
DT Brandon Williams: $13,468,000 projected tag number for defensive tackles
*To put that $13.5 million in perspective,* **Williams would be the second-highest cap hit for the Ravens in 2017, only behind quarterback Joe Flacco ($24.55 million). Having that much money tied up in a defensive tackle "would significantly hamper the Ravens' ability to make meaningful roster additions around him," wrote Zrebiec.
RT Rick Wagner: $14,444,000 projected tag number for offensive linemen
Wagner would cost even more than Williams because there is no specific designation for right tackles. All offensive linemen are wrapped into one category. If the Ravens were to pass on using the tag for Williams, it seems they'd be even less likely to pay $14.5 million for a right tackle. "Again, that would be far too prohibitive," wrote Zrebiec.
FB Kyle Juszczyk: $12,377,000 projected tag number for running backs*
*If the fullback position had its own special tag designation, then maybe Juszczyk would be considered a serious candidate. But, instead, fullbacks are considered running backs when calculating their tag worth, and nobody's going to pay a fullback like one of the league's best running backs. Is Juszczyk worth more than $12 million a year? "That's not happening," wrote Zrebiec.
We could keep going down the list of impending Ravens free agents, but then we'd be getting into non-starters who simply won't be tagged.
While Baltimore doesn't seem likely to jump into action, it will still be important to see which players other teams tag over the next few weeks because it could affect the free agency market and/or change the makeup of the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower are just a few to watch.
Five Ravens Offseason Predictions
As the Ravens make their plans to improve their 2017 roster, CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown made five offseason predictions:
*1) The Ravens will add a veteran wide receiver. *This almost seems like a given after GM Ozzie Newsome talked about scouring the market for a veteran that still has some "juice left in his legs." Brown, like many other Baltimore reporters, likes the idea of adding pending free agent Pierre Garcon if he walks away from Washington.
2) Joe Flacco will get together with some wide receivers for private throwing sessions.Flacco is already on record saying he wants to get together with his targets on his own this offseason. After missing all last offseason while rehabbing his knee injury, Flacco wants to develop more chemistry, particularly with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman. 3) On either Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft, the Ravens will take a cornerback.
Or maybe more? "It wouldn't be surprising to see the Ravens take two corners in this year's draft," added Brown.
4) The Ravens will re-sign free agent defensive tackle Brandon Williams.This is probably the biggest question surrounding the Ravens as the opening of free agency approaches. It will be expensive, but Brown thinks a marriage will ultimately be reached. "[L]osing Williams in his prime would be a major blow to a defense that can't afford to be vulnerable against the run."
*5) The Ravens will explore adding a veteran offensive lineman via free agency or trade. *A veteran offensive lineman could add depth, competition or even become a starter depending on what happens with Wagner and center Jeremy Zuttah, who Brown says could be a cap casualty. "The Ravens are serious about becoming a team that runs the football more effectively," wrote Brown. "They need a more physical offensive line to accomplish that goal."
Dixon One Of 10 Rookies Projected Make Leap To Stardom
Perhaps the biggest developmental improvement in an NFL player's career is from Year 1 to Year 2.
Some will use that time to leap into stardom, and ESPN's Matt Bowen identified 10 players across the NFL who will do just that after their 2016 rookie season.
Ravens rookie running back Kenneth Dixon is one of the 10 after rushing for 382 yards and two touchdowns, while catching 30 passes for 162 yards and a score. Those numbers could have been higher if it weren't for a knee injury that stalled the start to his NFL campaign. He missed the first four games.
"Dixon jumps into the mix because of his versatility," wrote Bowen. "He has the size (5-10, 215 pounds) to handle high-volume touches and the running style (lateral quickness) to make defenders miss at the point of attack. … A very good route runner who displays the burst to separate at the top of the stem, Dixon has the ability to be a three-down back in the pros."
Ravens Need To Draft Safety, Regardless Of What Happens In Free Agency
No matter what happens with their own free agents, or who they might sign off the street, the Ravens "badly" need to find a young safety in the draft, says Zrebiec.
Zrebiec has speculated about whether safety Lardarius Webb could be a cap casualty because of his $7.5 million cap number. He also mentioned that Anthony Levine Sr. and Matt Elam are unrestricted free agents.
No matter what decision the Ravens make with all three, Zrebiec would like to see Baltimore nail a safety in the draft.
"[T]he Ravens have poured a ton of resources into the safety position since Ed Reed moved on," wrote Zrebiec. "Yet, they might be thinner at safety right now than at any other position.
"Webb turns 32 in October and has one year remaining on his contract. Weddle is already 32. The Ravens could be active in the free agent market, but even if they sign a veteran, they still should draft a safety relatively early. It's a strong draft for safeties and the Ravens need to take full advantage after swinging and missing at the position far too often over the past handful of years."