Haloti Ngata's poor judgment is biggest surprise

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- From locker to locker, the reaction of the Baltimore Ravens players was the same Thursday. They couldn't believe defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

"I was very shocked," said rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who is expected to replace Ngata in the starting lineup. "It just didn't sound like Haloti."

The surprising part about this entire mess is Ngata's poor judgment. Ngata isn't a naive rookie who didn't know any better. He's a nine-year veteran who's being counted upon to be a leader.

This mistake will cost Ngata a trip to the Pro Bowl. It'll cost him $2.1 million in salary. But it will also cost the Ravens mightily for not having their highest paid defensive player on the field during their playoff run.

There's a responsibility that comes when a player receives a $25 million signing bonus and gets paid $48.3 million over four seasons. They're not supposed to put a team at risk at a time when it needs you the most.

The Ravens are saying all the right things. It's about moving forward. It's about the next man up. Ravens coach John Harbaugh made that point when he only addressed Ngata's suspension for five seconds at the start of Thursday's team meeting.

But the Ravens have to be fuming at Ngata. Taking performance-enhancing substances like Adderall is a selfish move. Ngata needed a big year in 2014 if he wanted to make his $8.5 million salary next season. If not, the Ravens could cut him or ask for a pay cut. So, he put himself above the team.

Ngata built a reputation for being nasty on the field. Some would say he's crossed the line at times. Ngata has been fined more than $43,000 for roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness.

But he was never seen as a cheater. Until now.

"You feel for that guy and for his family because, as someone who has a little experience with that, I know I'm not a bad person and I know Haloti is not a bad person," said cornerback Asa Jackson, who has been suspended a total of 12 games in his career for two violations of using Adderall.

Ngata is eligible to return if the Ravens make the playoffs. If they don't, Ngata may never be seen in a Ravens uniform again. There are no guarantees that Ngata is back next season considering his $16 million cap number, which is the sixth-highest among all defensive players.

For nearly nine years, Ngata worked hard to become the most dominating defensive lineman in Ravens history. Now, one mistake, no matter how out of character, can tarnish how his legacy is viewed.