With little more than an hour remaining before the deadline to accomplish one of their top priorities, the Ravens on Tuesday reached agreement on a five-year, $61 million deal with Haloti Ngata, ensuring that one of the game's most dominant interior linemen will be a fixture on their defense for the foreseeable future.
Ngata's deal runs through 2015 and includes $40 million over the first two years that is essentially guaranteed. The pact makes Ngata one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL and shares some similarities with the five-year, $68 million ($40 million guaranteed) contract Ndamukong Suh got after the Detroit Lions picked the defensive tackle second overall in 2010.
"This is a great feeling, and I can't explain how many different emotions I have," Ngata said in a statement released by the team. "What I want to do now is continue to get better every year and help the team get better. Our goal is to win Super Bowls, and I want to do my best to help us make that happen."
If the Ravens hadn't reached a deal with the defensive tackle by 4 p.m. Tuesday, Ngata would have played the rest of the season under the franchise tag, and on a one-year, $12.5 million deal. Now, the 27-year-old gets the long-term security he has been seeking and the Ravens open room under their 2011 salary cap to possibly address their depth at cornerback and wide receiver.
"This is another commitment from [owner] Steve Bisciotti making sure we keep our best players," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Haloti's re-signing is significant as we push to win consistently and battle for championships. His leadership is not only integral to our defense, but also the entire team."
Ngata's agent, Mike McCartney, announced the deal via his Twitter account. In an interview later, McCartney said he hadn't been optimistic that a deal would get done until late Monday night. Before Friday, McCartney said, he hadn't had any contract discussions with the Ravens for a couple of weeks.
"The Ravens are smart. They are watching this kid that has great character, brings his lunch pail every day and makes plays that change the course of a football game," McCartney said. "He's a unique guy. It's rare to say an interior lineman changes a football game, and he does it and he does it often. Haloti makes everyone around him better. … He's off to a tremendous start. I do believe the opening game against Pittsburgh really played a part in this."
Ngata, a first-round pick who has developed into the Ravens' latest defensive star, is a two-time Pro Bowl performer, and he's playing at an even higher level this season. In the Ravens' 35-7 season-opening win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ngata had four tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a batted pass that led to an interception. He followed that by making six tackles and deflecting a pass that resulted in an interception in a 26-13 loss Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
In five-plus seasons since the Ravens selected him with the 12th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Ngata has played in 80 of the team's 82 regular-season games (78 starts) and recorded 338 total tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He has also been a force in eight playoff games, totaling 30 tackles and 21/2 sacks.
"He is obviously instrumental to everything we do on defense," Newsome said. "He's a player who commands an offense's attention every single play, and his presence allows us to play a variety of effective defenses. Teams have to prepare for Haloti every week. Opposing coaches game-plan on Tuesday with Haloti in mind. They know he can dominate."
At 6 feet 4, 330 pounds, Ngata is a great run stopper who occupies space and blockers and gives linebacker Ray Lewis freedom to roam and make plays. In the five full seasons since Ngata joined the team, the Ravens have allowed a league-low 31 rushing touchdowns in 80 regular-season games. The Ravens have been a top-five rushing defense in the NFL every season since Ngata's arrival.
However, Ngata, a standout at Oregon, has also used his strength and athleticism to become a force on the pass rush, either getting to the quarterback or deflecting attention and double teams away from other Ravens, like linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"[Ngata] allows me to make a lot of plays," Suggs said this season. "You got to understand, he's a man among boys. Him and Ndamukong Suh are the best two defensive tackles in the NFL. When you have a guy like that lining up next to you, you've got to deal with him. I think that's why I'm successful, because of my counterpart, No. 92."
The Ravens have long recognized the importance of getting Ngata signed to a long-term deal. They couldn't get a deal done in March and instead settled for tagging him as their franchise player.
If they hadn't gotten a deal done before 4 p.m. Tuesday, they would have had to wait until after the season to resume extension talks, and possibly use their franchise tag again next year on Ngata. But that's now a moot point.
"You rarely see players around the league play with one team their entire career," Ngata said. "For me to be here another five years is great, and I'm thankful for the opportunity the Ravens have provided me. Hopefully, I can retire here."