If Ravens want to keep defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, they have leverage

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata greets fans as he exits the field during a November game against the Chargers.
Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata greets fans as he exits the field during a November game against the Chargers. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

This is one time when the Ravens don't need defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to cause problems.

Free agency is set to begin March 10, and if the Ravens want to succeed this offseason, they have to negotiate a contract extension with Ngata, their five-time Pro Bowl tackle signed through next season.


If they can get that done, it would free up money to land other free agents and retain their own. If they don't, well, the Ravens' 2006 first-round draft pick has to find another place this year where he can finish his career.

It will be interesting to see where both parties draw the red line.


In the past couple of seasons, the Ravens have asked Ngata to redo his contract, to which he has cordially replied, "Thanks, but no thanks." Unlike previous years, though, the Ravens now have some leverage.

Ngata is expected to make an $8.5 million base salary in 2015, with $16 million counting against the salary cap. That is an unbelievable amount of money for a player on the downturn of his career.

The Ravens are expected to meet with Ngata's agent soon, and they can point out they have two possible young replacements in Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan.

Neither has Ngata's combination of quickness and brute strength, and neither is the established team leader the 31-year-old is, but both have excellent potential. And the Ravens surely will point to Ngata's four-game suspension last season for his use of the banned substance Adderall.

The Ravens, though, have to be careful. Losing Ngata could significantly affect the locker room. The Ravens didn't suffer much on the field when Ngata was suspended for those four games, but his absence turned into a rallying point for some teammates.

Ngata is popular among the Ravens, and for teams in the Super Bowl hunt, there are always a handful of veterans who serve as the driving force.

The loss of Ngata certainly would impact outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of his best friends. His departure also would not sit well with veterans such as linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith and wide receiver Steve Smith.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome likes to point to his track record of re-signing first-round picks who have played well, allowing them to finish their careers in Baltimore. It's a long list, especially when compared with the group of players who left for more lucrative offers, such as cornerback Duane Starks and guard Ben Grubbs.

The assumption here is that the two sides will reach a fair-market agreement, much like the new deal given to Suggs a year ago.

Under his old contract, Suggs was set to make $7.8 million in base salary last season, with a $12.4 million salary cap hit. Under the new deal, he received an $11 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary, but his cap figure was $7.8 million.

Ngata is one of those players who is obsessed with winning. He'll take a cheap shot at an opposing player, but you can't question his passion. He likes Baltimore and is one of the most popular players in team history. Fans here identify with him. He is gritty and tough, yet charming when you get to know him. He's just a good, old bear.

But he is at that point of his career when the window of opportunity to win another Super Bowl is closing.


If he can give the Ravens $2 million or $3 million in cap relief, maybe they can go out and sign a cornerback like the Seattle Seahawks' Byron Maxwell or a receiver like the Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb. If not, maybe that money can be used for re-signing receiver Torrey Smith or tight end Owen Daniels.

Either way, something has to be done with Ngata. If he re-signs, the Ravens will get better. If he doesn't, they get younger and still better. But No. 92 has been a fixture here for too long.

It's just not time for him to leave yet.

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