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Ravens tag Ray Rice, Bears do same with Forte

Standout running backs Ray Rice of Baltimore and Matt Forte of Chicago had profitable Fridays.

The Ravens gave Rice the franchise tag after not reaching agreement on a new contract, and the Bears did the same with Forte. They almost surely will be staying put when NFL free agency begins on March 13.

Franchise players must be paid the average salary of the five highest-paid players at the position in a one-year deal. They are free to sign longer contracts, though, and if another team signs them, the club they leave must be compensated with two first-round draft choices.

Rice, who led the league with 2,068 combined yards from scrimmage, will earn $7.7 million in 2012. Baltimore, however, intends to have him around a lot longer.

"As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract," general manager Ozzie Newsome said Friday. "Our goal is to keep Ray Rice a Raven."

Rice scored a franchise-record 15 touchdowns in 2011 to go with a career-best 1,364 yards rushing. He also led Baltimore with 76 catches (for 704 yards).

Baltimore also terminated the contracts of wide receiver Lee Evans and cornerback Chris Carr, although Newsome did not dismiss the possibility of their return at lower salaries.

Forte sprained right knee ligaments early in a loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4 and sat out the rest of the season, yet made the Pro Bowl. He finished with 1,487 yards from scrimmage (997 rushing) in his fourth season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

He sought a contract extension during the 2011 season, but now will get the $7.7 million for 2012 - unless Forte and the Bears can agree on a long-term deal.

"Matt is an important part of our football team and we chose to utilize the franchise tag to ensure he remains a Bear," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We believe in Matt as a player and a person. Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond."

Also tagged were 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes, Redskins tight end Fred Davis, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, and a pair of placekickers: Cincinnati's Mike Nugent and Cleveland's Phil Dawson.

The franchise tag number for safeties is expected to be about $6.2 million next season.

"Dashon has been a 49er since we selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 draft," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. "By using the franchise tag on Dashon, it affords us the opportunity to continue to work on a long-term contract with him, while also ensuring he will be a 49er for a sixth season, in 2012."

Grimes' agent, Ben Dogra, said the decision by the Falcons was expected.

"We anticipated receiving the franchise tag," Dogra said. "Brent Grimes is certainly viewed as one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL, and getting franchised is not a surprise to any of us."

Davis was suspended by the NFL for the final four games of last season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Despite missing a quarter of the season, Davis was second on the Redskins with 59 catches and 796 yards receiving, both career highs.

Campbell, a second-round pick out of Miami in 2008, set career bests for Arizona with 72 tackles, 53 solo, and a team-leading eight sacks last season. He had an interception and forced two fumbles, recovering one.

Cardinals general manager Rod Graves has said his team has no intention of letting Campbell go.

Nugent has played two seasons for the Bengals after signing as a free agent in 2010. He helped the Bengals earn a wild-card playoff berth in 2011 and set franchise records for points (132) and field goals (33).

It's the second straight year the Browns have franchised Dawson, who made $3.25 million last season and will make 20 percent more - roughly $3.8 million - next season, his 14th in Cleveland. The Browns still could sign the steady, 37-year-old Dawson to a long-term contract. He's coming off one of his best seasons, making 24 of 29 field-goal attempts and seven from beyond 50 yards, one shy of the NFL record.

The Steelers continued their offseason roster purge, announcing veteran linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith will be released before March 13. They join long-time receiving star Hines Ward, who was told earlier this week he would not be back in Pittsburgh.

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