Ravens 2012 Free Agency: Tags and Tenders on the Way

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a touchdown during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

March 13th. You’ve probably heard that date repeated over and over again, but it’s not without good reason. That’s the day that the feeding frenzy known as free agency begins. Without a doubt a few Baltimore Ravens could be packing their bags and heading off into the sunset on their way to play for new teams and some players the Ravens will do anything within their power to keep in town. That’s where the franchise tag and tenders come into play.

Yesterday I posted about some of the Ravens’ key starters and their current contract situations. Joe Flacco and Ben Grubbs are currently sitting at the negotiating tables with their agents and the Ravens working towards long-term contract agreements. Whether or not Grubbs is willing to accept the offer that the Ravens have extended to him remains to be seen, but head coach John Harbaugh made it be known last week that the Ravens are offering a sizeable amount of money to remain in Baltimore.

On the flip side, more and more reports are indicating that the Ravens will place the franchise tag on their star running back Ray Rice because the team and Rice haven’t yet come to an agreement on a contract extension. The most recent report came late last night from the Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson which stated that the Ravens will use the franchise tag on Rice tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd. The deadline in which the franchise tag can be used on any given player is March 5th, however, it should be noted that the Ravens and Rice will still have until mid-July to work out a new contract. If a new deal isn’t struck between both sides by the mid-July deadline, Rice will then have to play under the franchise tag for the up-coming season.

(After the "Jump", see what the franchise tag means for Rice and which other Ravens free agents could be tendered as well.)

Ray Rice: While it’s a shame that the Ravens and Rice have been unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, it certainly doesn’t mean that Rice’s future in Baltimore is in jeopardy. The Ravens have a long history of utilizing the franchise tag for their high-profile players in order to allow the sometimes long process of contract negotiations to play out. Most recently, Haloti Ngata played under the franchise tag for the 2010 season and last September signed a 5- year, $61 million contract. Before Ngata, Terrell Suggs played under the franchise tag for two consecutive years (2008, 2009) before signing his six-year, $63 million contract in July of 2009 which made him the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history at the time. The franchise tag this off-season is $7.7 million for running backs. Of course Rice wants a long-term deal done, but it’s been good to see the two-time All-Pro take everything in stride:

"Yeah, I definitely prefer long-term over franchise tag. I’m not going to complain about the franchise tag, either. It puts yourself in a position where you play that year out and guys have done it, but I prefer the long-term. That’s what Baltimore, the city, the fans, they would love to know that Ray Rice is going to be here, not just one year, but for many years to come."

Keep that July 15th deadline in your sights folks. That’s the deadline the Ravens have to meet if they wish to pay Rice the big-time money which he both wants and also deserves. If the two sides haven’t come to an agreement by the middle of the summer, Rice will have to play under the franchise tag for the 2012-2013 season.

Lardarius Webb: Quickly becoming one of the best all-around defensive backs in the NFL, Webb is set to become a restricted free agent this off-season. It should be noted that the Ravens have been planning to work out a long-term deal for Webb sometime in the near future. For now though it seems that the Ravens will place a 1st round tender on Webb in an effort to deter any other teams from trying to lure Webb away. If another franchise were to offer Webb a contract, the Ravens would then have the opportunity to match said offer, and if the Ravens didn’t match it and the opposing franchise won the bidding war, the Ravens would be awarded that teams 1st round draft choice. This is the way general manager Ozzie Newsome sees it:

"This league covets draft picks. And so, in order to go after a restricted guy, No. 1, you have to give a number now that's something that I won't match, or we won't match as a team. And then you've got to also give up a significant draft choice, because we would put some numbers on there that would make it prohibitive for people. So, it would be like me…There's going to be some restricted free agents that we would like, but is it going to be worth giving up a significant amount of cash and cap and a draft pick? When you deal with that double-whammy, even though the rules have been relaxed, you just go, 'Nah, no, I wouldn't do it.' That's just my philosophy."

Though the tender doesn’t offer any guarantees, Newsome’s explanation of the restricted free agent dilemma shows how prohibitive it is for teams to pursue these types of free agents. Due to the significant cost that comes with pursuing restricted free agents in the form of major draft picks, it becomes unlikely that teams will delve into the restricted-free-agents-pool. Just like the deadline in which teams have to designate players with the franchise tag, the tender deadline is the same date of March 5th.

Cary Williams: Much like Webb, Williams is also becoming a restricted free agent in a matter of weeks and it seems likely that the Ravens will also place a high tender on him in an effort to keep him in town. While not the lock-down cornerback that Webb was this season, Williams had his breakout year this season amassing: 61 solo tackles/18 passes defensed/2 forced fumbles. In a similar situation as Webb, surely the Ravens would like to get both young cornerbacks under long-term contracts as soon as possible.

As the key deadlines draw near of March 5th (franchise tag and tender deadline) and July 15th (last day the Ravens will be free to sign Rice to a new contract before he has to play under the franchise tag next year), keep your eyes peeled on these contact developments as they unfold over the coming weeks. Hopefully the Ravens can agree to new contracts with the likes of Flacco, Grubbs, and Rice all while preventing any other team from snatching away a restricted free agent like Webb.

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