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Breaking down the next step for Justin Tucker, Ravens

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker signed his restricted free-agent tender on Thursday, according to the NFL transactions list.

This means Tucker will remain with the Ravens for the 2015 season for $2.356 million. Tucker didn't receive any offer sheets from other teams, and Friday is the deadline to do so.

The Ravens essentially guaranteed Tucker's return last month when they placed a second-round tender on him. Baltimore would've received a second-round pick as compensation if it chose not to match a team's offer sheet for him.

So, what's the next step for Tucker and the Ravens? He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next March, but there's very little chance that the Ravens will let one of the best young kickers hit the open market.

Here are the two likely outcomes: The Ravens sign Tucker to an extension or they use the franchise tag on him in February. The odds of the Ravens using the tag on Tucker increased after one projected target for the tag, cornerback Jimmy Smith, signed an extension this week.

When Tucker signs a long-term deal, he is expected to be among the highest-paid kickers in the NFL, if not the highest paid. The top contracts for kickers (Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski and Chicago's Robbie Gould) include over $8 million in guaranteed money and average $3.7 million per season.

The market value for kickers could change over the next year because young kickers like Minnesota's Blair Walsh and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein are also entering the final years of their rookie contracts.

If the Ravens can't strike a deal with Tucker by February, Baltimore can place the franchise tag on him. That would keep Tucker from becoming an unrestricted free agent, and the Ravens would pay him a one-year, fully guaranteed contract that should be around $5 million.

Tucker, 25, has been the Ravens' kicker since 2012 when he was signed as an undrafted rookie. He is the most accurate kicker in NFL history with an 89.8 percent accuracy rate.

He became the second-fastest kicker in NFL history to reach the 400-point milestone, doing so in his 48th game. Only Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud did it faster (47 games).

With this tender, Tucker ranks as the ninth highest-paid kicker in the NFL. New England's Stephen Gostkowski has the highest 2015 salary for a kicker at $4.59 million.