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Ravens Insider: Ravens ‘probably’ will use franchise tag on Justin Madubuike if deal can’t get done by deadline


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INDIANAPOLIS — Justin Madubuike will likely be a Raven for at least one more season.

General manager Eric DeCosta said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine that Baltimore is trying to get a deal done with the 26-year-old star defensive tackle, who is one of more than 20 players on the roster due to hit free agency next month. Even if he can’t, DeCosta said he “probably will” use the franchise tag on Madubuike by the March 5 deadline.

The franchise tag for defensive tackles in 2024 is $22.102 million.

Should Baltimore use the tag on Madubuike, it would need to make adjustments to be under the salary cap when free agency begins March 13. The Ravens currently have just over $16.6 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap, but could create more room by restructuring current contracts and/or releasing players.

Either way, Madubuike should be back in Baltimore for the 2024 season, if not longer.

“We’re trying to get a deal done,” DeCosta said. “We’ve had discussions with Justin. He’s the guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year by the way that he played. Had a great season for us. He’s a valued player on the team, and we’re hopeful that we can get a long-term deal done.”

The only one other time the Ravens have used the franchise tag on a defensive tackle was with Haloti Ngata in 2011. He later agreed to a five-year extension worth $61 million.

There are two types of tags — exclusive and nonexclusive — Baltimore can choose from. The former would bind Madubuike to the Ravens for next season, while the latter would allow him to sign an offer sheet with another team. The Ravens would then have the right to match the deal or refuse and receive two first-round draft picks from the team Madubuike signs with as compensation. Baltimore placed the nonexclusive tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson in March before signing him to a five-year, $260 million deal in April.

If the Ravens give Madubuike the franchise tag, they can continue to negotiate a long-term extension until the mid-July deadline.

Madubuike is coming off a breakout season in which he tallied a career-high 13 sacks, which led all NFL interior linemen and helped the Ravens record a league-best 60 sacks.

His 13 sacks tied a franchise single-season record for a defensive tackle, and he became the first Raven to record double-digit sacks in a season since Terrell Suggs in 2017. Madubuike’s streak of 11 straight games with at least a half-sack also tied the NFL single-season record.

For those reasons, bringing back Madubuike has been a priority, particularly with several other key contributors from last season’s 13-4 team set to become free agents.

“It’s something that we haven’t just started thinking about, obviously,” DeCosta said at the team’s season-ending news conference earlier this month. “It’s something we’ve been thinking about. Justin [Madubuike] had a great year, as did [inside linebacker] Patrick Queen. Those two guys obviously are Pro Bowlers [who] had great seasons, and we’ll have a good plan in place for those guys.”

In addition to being selected to his first Pro Bowl, Madubuike was named second-team All-Pro after finishing with 56 tackles, including 12 for loss, and 33 quarterback hits.

One thing that should help — in Madubuike’s case and others’ — is the NFL’s salary cap increase. It will climb to $255.4 million in 2024, up $30 million from last year.

Still, with so many free agents and holes at just about every position other than tight end and quarterback, the Ravens won’t be able to bring back everyone from last season’s roster.

That possibly includes Queen, who was also selected to his first Pro Bowl after a career-high 133 tackles, as well as safety Geno Stone, whose seven interceptions were the second-most in the NFL last season. DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh were also noncommittal on whether wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who signed a one-year, $15 million deal last offseason, would be back.

Still, the increase could help facilitate bringing more players back than initially expected, though a full draft class will eat into it, too.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to just open up the books and go shopping,” DeCosta said. “That’s not really the Ravens’ way, but to have that buffer, so to speak, and to give us a little bit more flexibility along the way … It helps us this year, but it also helps us in the coming years as we project what we think that salary cap is going to be moving out in years ’25 and ’26, as well.”

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