Ravens put franchise tag on sacks leader Justin Madubuike

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens placed the franchise tag on defensive tackle Justin Madubuike on Tuesday, keeping their sacks leader from last season from reaching free agency.

It was expected that Baltimore would use the franchise tag, which is worth $22,110,200 for defensive tackles this season. A week ago, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said the team would probably use the tag if the sides couldn't reach an extension before Tuesday's deadline to designate franchise players.

"Justin is a great player and person, and we will continue to negotiate a long-term deal with him," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement.

Madubuike, 26, is coming off a breakout season in which he produced a career-high 13 sacks for a Ravens defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks. By expanding his pass-rush moves, Madubuike totaled 4.5 more sacks last season than he did in his first three seasons combined (8.5 sacks). He is the first Ravens defensive tackle to receive the tag since Haloti Ngata in 2011.

The Ravens will need to create more cap space to fit Madubuike's tag under the salary cap by March 13, which is the start of the new league year. Baltimore, which is about $13 million under the cap, will need to cut players, restructure contracts or get players to take pay cuts to free up more cap space.

Baltimore has a history of keeping its franchise-tagged players long term. Six of the previous eight players tagged by the Ravens have eventually signed contract extensions, including quarterback Lamar Jackson last season. The NFL deadline for teams to reach a contract extension with tagged players is July 15.

By putting the tag on Madubuike, the Ravens now bring back four experienced defensive linemen, along with nose tackle Michael Pierce and defensive tackles Travis Jones and Broderick Washington. The Ravens' top free agent on defense becomes Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Queen.

Last season, Madubuike was the NFL's most productive defensive force on the inside. His 13 sacks were the fifth most in a single season by a Baltimore player and were tied for the most by a Ravens defensive tackle. He became the first Ravens player to record double-digit sacks since Terrell Suggs had 11 in 2017.

Madubuike has drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, for his consistent pressure on the interior. His streak of 11 straight games with at least a half-sack is tied for the longest in NFL single-season history.

He was named second-team All-Pro and was invited to his first Pro Bowl after shattering his career highs with 56 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 33 quarterback hits. Coaches said Madubuike has added different ways to get to the quarterback, bringing down passers with spins, cross-chops and chop-drive moves.

A third-round pick in 2020, Madubuike has recorded 153 tackles, 21.5 sacks and 49 quarterback hits in his four-year career.