The NFL’s offseason starts in earnest on Feb. 23 when teams can place a franchise tag on an impending free agent.
Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta will have to make a critical decision on whether it’s beneficial to use that tag in light of the team’s other needs and a limited salary cap.
If the Ravens do indeed exercise the franchise tag, the most likely candidate would be defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who was acquired by the Vikings at the trade deadline.
Of those four, DeCosta could likely reach deals with Ward and McPhee. It’s becoming more evident that Judon and Bowser want to test the market. Judon will undoubtedly draw interest from several teams and Bowser picked an ideal time to have his best season as a pro. If the market for outside linebackers grows thin, Bowser might be able to land a deal in excess of $10 million.
DeCosta also must consider whether to bring back defensive end Derek Wolfe, who was one of the unsung heroes of the defense last year.
And that brings us back to Ngakoue.
He faced some criticism because he did not make much of an impact as a pass rusher after arriving from Minnesota. He finished the season with 11 tackles, three sacks and two quarterback hits over nine regular-season games. Two of those sacks came against his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
DeCosta would like to get more return on its initial investment and also get a chance to see how Ngakoue can produce with a full offseason with the team. The franchise tag for Ngakoue would be just under $16 million.
In addition, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed with Ngakoue’s performance and how he helped disrupt opponents even if that impact did not show up on the stat sheet. Harbaugh highlighted Ngakoue’s ability to set the edge, stop the run, play the crack-sweep, run to the ball, drop, understand the zone and the man drops.
“It was only the second half of the season, so I don’t think you can really judge it based on what you saw, in terms of that,” Harbaugh said. “It was a little more of passing downs, really. So, he’s a great guy, he’s a very talented guy, he plays hard as heck.
“He bought in 100% to what we’re doing, as far as the different techniques we use, like setting the edge and things like that, and I love him. He’s a great pass rusher, too, and [a] high-motor guy. So, I have nothing but love and respect for ‘Yan’ and the type of player and person that he is.”
It could be in the Ravens’ interest to see what Ngakoue can do with a full offseason with the team. In addition, Ngakoue will have plenty of suitors if he does hit the open market and that will inevitably drive up his price.
The Ravens don’t have any effective pass rushers on the current roster. Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson has yet to live up to his reputation as the “Sack Daddy.” DeCosta could look to add an edge rusher in the draft, but it’s uncertain how much of an impact a player can make as a rookie.
As a result, the best option will be to keep Ngakoue in Baltimore.
Here are all of the the Ravens players that have received the franchise tag:
1998— Guard/center Wally Williams
2003 and 2004 — Cornerback Chris McAlister
2008 and 2009 — Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs
2011 — Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata
2012 — Running back Ray Rice
2016 — Kicker Justin Tucker
2020 — Outside linebacker Matt Judon