A nine-year run that included five Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship wasn’t enough to continue a relationship between the Ravens and longtime defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
The organization announced the trade of Ngata to the Detroit Lions on Tuesday afternoon, a move that will net the Ravens fourth and fifth-round selections in this year’s draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome will also send his 2015 seventh-round selection to the Lions.
Ngata had one season remaining on a five-year, $61 million contract that was signed in 2011. The 31-year-old was scheduled to make $8.5 million in base salary and to carry a $16 million salary cap figure, realities that were problematic for the Ravens this offseason. The move clears $8.5 million in much-needed space while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 cap.
With Detroit losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, Ngata will not only rejoin former Ravens assistants Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin in Detroit, but he will fill a major void on the Lions defensive line. The decision to trade Ngata also prevents him from joining an AFC rival, something that would have been possible had he been released. While two Day 3 draft selections aren’t a tremendous return for one of the best players in franchise history, the Ravens didn’t have great negotiating leverage considering most expected Ngata to be released if the sides didn’t work out a deal.
“Haloti has been an outstanding player for us for many years,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He consistently showed tremendous leadership in our locker room and on the field. At times, he was one of the NFL’s most dominant players.”
Since last year, Baltimore had explored a contract extension with Ngata to lessen his cap hit and afford him the opportunity to finish his career with the Ravens like future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and current teammate Terrell Suggs, who signed a four-year, $20.7 million extension that included $16 million guaranteed last offseason. Instead, Ngata follows in the footsteps of safety Ed Reed and will now finish his career elsewhere.
Head coach John Harbaugh expressed strong optimism last month that the organization would get a deal done with Ngata, but members of the organization offered a more tempered approach two weeks ago during the “State of the Ravens” press conference.
“You go back to Suggs, we were able to successfully do that, which doesn’t guarantee that he retires as a Raven, but it certainly guaranteed that we would play him well into his 30s,” owner Steve Bisciotti said last month. “We were successful with Ray; we were unsuccessful with Ed. I put Haloti in that group of iconic players that helped us to get where we are as a franchise.”
The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata undoubtedly goes down as one of the most decorated players in franchise history with only Lewis (13), Jonathan Ogden (11), Reed (nine), and Suggs (six) making it to more Pro Bowls in their time with the Ravens. But it is fair to question how much longer he will continue to play at a high level after nagging injuries hindered his performance in 2012 and 2013.
A strong 2014 campaign certainly improved Ngata’s value in the eyes of the Ravens, but a four-game suspension for Adderall allowed the organization to get an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who filled in admirably over the final month of the regular season before injuring his ankle in the regular-season finale. Jernigan and starting nose tackle Brandon Williams will now be expected to lead a defensive line that’s parted ways with Ngata and veteran Chris Canty this offseason.
The old adage of letting go of a player a year too early being preferable to a season or two too late applies in this case despite the void Ngata leaves behind in terms of both production on the field and leadership in the locker room. Even with Jernigan ready to step into a bigger role, the Ravens would benefit from adding another run-stuffing defensive tackle via the draft or free agency.
The 12th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Ngata was tied with punter Sam Koch for having the second-longest tenure with the Ravens behind Suggs. Going into the 2014 season, the University of Oregon product expressed hope that he would finish his career in Baltimore, but reports have indicated that Ngata and agent Mike McCartney weren’t willing to be as flexible as Suggs was in finding a compromise with the Ravens last winter.
“I would love to be a Raven for life,” Ngata said last June. “If we can get something done, that’d be great. We’ll just let my agent and Ozzie take care of that business off the field.”
In 2014, Ngata collected 31 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and seven pass breakups. His run of five consecutive Pro Bowl nods was snapped this past season after his suspension for Adderall, which the NFL considers a performance-enhancing drug.
The Ravens will be challenged in replacing Ngata’s ability against the run as they finished fifth or better in the NFL in run defense seven times and ranked eighth or better in yards per carry allowed in every one of Ngata’s nine seasons anchoring the defensive line. Baltimore also allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns and the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL during Ngata’s career.
He finishes with 445 tackles, 25 1/2 sacks, six forced fumbles, and five interceptions in his nine-year career with the Ravens.