The negotiations between kicker Justin Tucker and the Baltimore Ravens came to an amicable and logical resolution about a half hour before Friday's 4 p.m deadline, when the sides agreed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract.
In kicking terms, the Ravens hit it right down the middle on this one. Baltimore closed the deal on what had suddenly became terse talks by making Tucker the highest-paid kicker in the NFL in terms of guaranteed money ($10.8 million) and signing bonus ($6 million).
"Justin has become a cornerstone for our team," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, "and we are happy to get this contract completed."
Tucker earned the right not to play under the franchise tag this year and ascend to the top of the pay scale for his position after going from an undrafted rookie (who received no signing bonus) to the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. He has converted 87.8 percent of his career field goals while regularly ranking among the lowest-paid kickers in base salaries: $390,000 in 2012 (34th among kickers), $480,000 in 2013 (29th), $570,000 in 2014 (24th) and $2.356 million last year (fifth).
The Ravens got a bargain out of Tucker over the last four years, and it was simply time to pay his market value. New England's Stephen Gostkowski set the standard for kickers when he signed a four-year $17.2 million deal ($10.1 million guaranteed) last July, and it was surprising that it took until the final hour for the sides to reach this type of an agreement. Perhaps the drama was befitting a kicker who can sing opera in seven different languages and does a mean Matthew McConaughey impersonation.
Given Tucker's production, it was only fair for him to get paid like Gostkowski. Tucker has a higher career success rate (87.3 percent), has converted six more 50-yard field goals since 2012 and has one more touchback than Gostkowski over the last two seasons. And, at the age of 26, Tucker is six years younger than the Patriots kicker.
The Ravens certainly weren't obligated to give Gostkowski-type money to Tucker. Baltimore had the leverage for this year and 2017 because the team could've tagged him again next offseason.
If the Ravens didn't sign Tucker, it would've suggested they wanted to see how he held up to another year of playing under a one-year deal, especially after missing a career-worst seven field goals last season. It might have indicated Baltimore was hesitant to commit after its last long-term deal with a kicker ended disastrously with Billy Cundiff.
But nothing in Tucker's track record so far suggests this is a risky investment. He is nearly automatic inside 50 yards (94.9 percent), is perfect in the postseason (8-for-8) and has made 10 winning kicks, including three last season that came in overtime or with no time remaining in regulation.
The Ravens' history is to reward the players they've tagged. Cornerback Chris McAlister (2004), linebacker Terrell Suggs (2009) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (2011) all received guaranteed money that ranked in the top two at their position after being tagged by Baltimore. Ray Rice (2012) signed a deal that included the biggest first-year payout for a running back ($24 million) just four months after getting the franchise tag.
If any team understands the value of kickers, it should be Baltimore. After moving on from Matt Stover, the Ravens watched the struggles of Steven Hauschka and Cundiff cost them games and a potential trip to the Super Bowl. Cundiff famously missed a 32-yard attempt in the final against the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.
The Ravens took a chance on Tucker as an undrafted rookie four years ago, and he paid them back with consistent and clutch kicking. It was now Baltimore's turn to pay back Tucker, and the Ravens came through for one of the biggest overachievers on the team.