A look at potential franchise tag targets for each of the AFC North teams. The window for tagging players opens Monday and closes March 5.
The Ravens have never been shy about putting the franchise tag on players, using it six times in their 16-year history: offensive lineman Wally Williams (1998), cornerback Chris McAlister (2003 and 2004), linebacker Terrell Suggs (2008 and 2009) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (2010). The past three players who have been tagged by the Ravens -- McAlister, Suggs and Ngata -- reached long-term deals with Baltimore.
The Ravens are the one team in the division that's considered a lock to use the franchise tag. Here are the options:
Top candidate: Ray Rice, running back. It would be a major surprise if the Ravens didn't put the tag on Rice, who is the top free-agent running back this offseason. There have been reports that the Ravens have yet to begin contract talks with Rice. (But the team is meeting with the agent for quarterback Joe Flacco next week). It will be interesting to see whether Rice, who has been the consummate team player, decides to hold out to protest the tag. The franchise tag is expected to drop to $7.7 million this season for running backs (from $9.6 million in 2011), which makes it an even bigger discount for the Ravens. Rice, who produced an NFL-best 2,068 total yards and set a team record with 15 touchdowns, can make a strong argument for a contract comparable to the one signed by the Titans' Chris Johnson: a reported four-year, $53.5 million deal.
Dark horse: Ben Grubbs, guard. This only comes into play if the Ravens can somehow get a deal done with Rice before March 5. Baltimore's preference is to keep Grubbs, especially after the offensive line struggled in the six games that he missed with a toe injury. It would be difficult for the Ravens to sign Grubbs to a long-term deal after making such a sizable investment at the guard position last year. Baltimore signed Marshal Yanda to a five-year, $32.5 million deal that included a $10 million signing bonus. Plus, the Ravens probably won't be able to outbid teams who need guards and have more cap room than them (like the Cincinnati Bengals).