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Ravens Insider: Ravens use nonexclusive franchise tag on DT Justin Madubuike

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Justin Madubuike will be staying a Raven for at least one more year.

The Ravens issued the nonexclusive franchise tag for the 26-year-old star defensive tackle Tuesday after they couldn’t come to terms on a long-term agreement, just ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline.

“We were unable to agree on a contract extension with Justin before the deadline and will use the franchise tag,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “Justin is a great player and person, and we will continue to negotiate a long-term deal with him.”

By issuing the nonexclusive tag, Madubuike can still sign an offer sheet with another team, and Baltimore would then have the right to match it or refuse and receive two first-round draft picks from the team he signs with as compensation.

Given the cost — the franchise tag for defensive tackles in 2024 is more than $22.1 million — it seems unlikely that another team would be willing to spend that much, even for a player of Madubuike’s caliber.

Even with the tag, Madubuike and the Ravens have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term extension, something DeCosta said at last week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis he is interested in doing.

“We’ve had discussions with Justin,” DeCosta said. “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.”

Madubuike is coming off a breakout season in which he led all NFL interior linemen with a career-high 13 sacks, part of the Ravens’ league-best 60 for the season.

His 13 sacks also 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 half a sack tied the NFL’s single-season record, and Baltimore became the first team in the modern era to lead the league in sacks, takeaways and points allowed per game.

It’s just the second time the Ravens have used the franchise tag on a defensive tackle; the last was in 2011 on Haloti Ngata, who later agreed to a five-year extension.

Baltimore also used the nonexclusive tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson last March before signing him to a five-year, $260 million deal in April. Madubuike’s next contract is projected to be $92 million over four years, according to Pro Football Focus.

Using the tag on Madubuike this season does limit the Ravens’ salary cap flexibility this offseason, particularly with more than 20 of their players due to hit the open market when free agency begins next week. But securing Madubuike was the organization’s biggest priority after he was a consistently disruptive force who helped the Ravens to an NFL-best 13-4 record last season and an appearance in the AFC championship game.

In addition to his sack total, Madubuike had 64 quarterback pressures last season, according to Next Gen Stats, which tied for the second most of any Ravens player since 2016 and were behind only outside linebacker and pending free agent Jadeveon Clowney last season. Madubuike was selected to his first Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro after finishing with 56 tackles, including 12 for loss, and 33 quarterback hits.

Bringing back the former third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M also gives the Ravens an All-Pro caliber player at every level of their defense, along with inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton, and a $30 million increase in the NFL’s salary cap to $255.4 million in 2024 should help when it comes to bringing back at least some of their other pending free agents.

It also means the Ravens will have to undergo cost-cutting elsewhere on their roster.

Before issuing the franchise tag, the Ravens had only about $12 million in salary cap space, according to Over The Cap, and they’ll need to be cap-compliant by the time the new league year begins March 13. There are several ways they can get under the salary cap, including restructuring the contracts of Jackson, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and others.

And that’s just the start of it.

Baltimore can create even more cap space — something it’ll need to do with a draft class that’ll require about $15 million, plus several other holes, including at running back, that will need to be accounted for in free agency — by getting left tackle Ronnie Stanley to agree to a pay cut. His $26.2 million cap hit is second to only Jackson’s, a prohibitively big number for a player who struggled with injury for a second straight year and was not close to one of the best tackles in the game as his contract would suggest.

Among other possibilities to free up more money could include releasing fullback Patrick Ricard, which would create $4 million in cap space, and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser ($5.5 million), who played just nine games in 2022 and missed all of 2023 with a knee injury.

But all of these are decisions that will come over the next week. Tagging Madubuike was just the first step.

This story will be updated.

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