DeCosta says Ravens “probably will” tag Madubuike without long-term deal

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Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has all but confirmed what most were anticipating regarding the future of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Madubuike.

Speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, DeCosta said he “probably will” use the franchise tag on Madubuike if the sides are unable to reach a long-term contract prior to next Tuesday’s deadline. The tag for a defensive tackle would cost $22.102 million for the 2024 season, but it would prevent the pending free agent from hitting the open market after he led all NFL interior defensive linemen with 13 sacks last season. As was the case with superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson last offseason, another team would be permitted to sign Madubuike to an offer sheet, but the Ravens would have the right to match the offer and would receive two first-round picks from the competing team if they elected not to match, all but eliminating any practical chance of a team pursuing the 2020 third-round pick out of Texas A&M this offseason.

DeCosta still hopes to avoid that scenario, however.

“We’re trying to get a deal done. We’ve had discussions with Justin,” DeCosta said. “He’s a guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year by the way that he played [and] 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.”

Some projections of a long-term contract have suggested a total value approaching nine figures over four years, the kind of deal that would make Madubuike the second-highest paid player on the team behind only Jackson in average annual value. His previous career high for sacks was 5 1/2 in his third season, but the 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle’s breakout 2023 led to him being voted a second-team All-Pro selection in addition to being named to his first Pro Bowl.

Should the Ravens use the franchise tag, the sides would have until mid-July to reach a long-term contract to avoid Madubuike being forced to play the entire 2024 season on the $22.102 million tag, which would be prohibitive from a salary cap standpoint. Though it remains to be seen how likely a deal is prior to the March 5 deadline, Baltimore received good news pertaining to its flexibility in using the tag when the NFL announced the 2024 salary cap would increase to $255.4 million, a bigger jump than many were projecting from last year’s $224.8 million.

“It was nice to see that number. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to just open up the books and go shopping [for free agents],” 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.”

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