The Ravens have placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, keeping the All-Pro from free agency in the team’s first big roster move of the offseason.

“We were unable to agree on a contract extension with Justin before the deadline and will use the franchise tag,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement Tuesday. “Justin is a great player and person, and we will continue to negotiate a long-term deal with him.”

With the tag, Baltimore will likely have Madubuike, who led all interior linemen with 13 sacks in 2023, for at least one more season. If the two sides can’t agree on an extension before July 15, Madubuike would play on a one-year tender worth a guaranteed $22.1 million. Negotiations could resume after the 2024 season. The Ravens could also trade Madubuike this offseason, though tag-and-trade deals are rare.

In designating Madubuike with the franchise tag ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the Ravens made clear their priority in this year’s free-agent class. All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Queen is unlikely to re-sign when free agency opens next week, and should be one of the top players available at the position. Pro Bowl right guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and safety Geno Stone also headline the Ravens’ group of pending free agents.

Madubuike’s tag will limit the Ravens’ ability to make another big splash in free agency. An extension would likely lower his salary cap hit in 2024, but contract talks have dragged on for several months without resolution. Madubuike turned down contract offers before last season and emerged as one of the NFL’s most valuable defensive linemen. According to projections from Pro Football Focus, he would’ve been in line to earn a four-year, $92 million contract in free agency this offseason.

With Madubuike set to return along with inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens will have an All-Pro defender at every level of their defense in 2024, all age 26 or younger. Madubuike, a third-round pick in 2020, had one of the best seasons by a defensive lineman in franchise history last year. He recorded at least a half-sack in 11 consecutive games, tied for the longest such single-season streak in NFL history; started all 17 games for one of the NFL’s best defenses, finishing sixth in defensive snaps; and was one of the team’s more impactful run defenders.

“It’s not surprising,” coach John Harbaugh said in December of Madubuike’s growth. “You saw it all through the years, but you saw it in training camp — we all did. He works hard every day. He’s humble, he’s determined, he’s confident, and he wants to be the best player he can be. He plays for his team. There’s nothing about him that isn’t an A-plus, and to see him have that kind of success, that’s awesome.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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