Welcome to the franchise tag period of the offseason. I know how intently you all have been waiting for this day.
This is a time (starting today and going until March 5) in which NFL teams can place the franchise tag on one of their own free agents, guaranteeing that player will remain with the team for at least the upcoming season.
The team can continue negotiating a long-term contract with the player after the franchise tag has been applied, but if one isn't reached prior to the league-imposed deadline early in the regular season, the player will have to play out the season under a one-year contract which pays him the average of the top-five highest-paid players at his position.
This conversation is relevant in Baltimore this year, obviously, because of Ray Rice, the Ravens' two-time Pro Bowl running back.
Rice is an unrestricted free agent this offseason after playing out his rookie contract, and while he's looking for a long-term deal from the Ravens, he's unlikely to get one prior to the March 5 deadline in which the tag must be applied.
Negotiations like these take time, as we all know, and the tag is not only a way for the Ravens to ensure that Rice will remain with the organization for 2012, but also a way for them to buy more time to negotiate with Rice's agent, Todd France.
That's worked out well for the organization in the past, as the Ravens have reached long-term deals with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister after initially slapping the franchise tag on those players. (Both Suggs and McAlister got their long-term deals only after having the tag placed on them in back-to-back seasons, however.)
The Ravens want Rice around long-term, and Rice wants to be in Charm City for years to come. But if a Sports Illustrated report is accurate - one which states that Rice is looking for a contract similar to the seven-year deal worth up to $100 million that the Vikings reached with Adrian Peterson last September - then these talks might be going on for quite a while.