This week, the Baltimore Ravens blog will look at potential salary-cap casualties on the team and give a prediction on what will happen.
DT Haloti Ngata
2015 salary-cap number: $16 million (ranks first on Ravens)
2015 base salary: $8.5 million
Cap savings if cut: $8.5 million
Why the Ravens should keep Ngata: There's really not a convincing argument at this salary-cap number, especially when the Ravens likely will have to make some cuts to get under the cap. It's the 20th-highest cap number in the NFL, and there's only five defensive players with higher cap figures. The only way the Ravens can realistically can keep Ngata is with a contract extension similar to the one signed last offseason by linebacker Terrell Suggs ($20.7 over four years including $16 million guaranteed). Last month, coach John Harbaugh was asked whether the team would like to get an extension done with Ngata. "I think everybody knows the answer to that," Harbaugh said.
Ngata is coming off one of his best seasons in recent memory, a sign that he can still be a difference-maker. He had two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven batted passes. He was a monster in goal-line situations. Ngata has been the foundation of the Ravens' run defense. Since being drafted by the Ravens in 2006, the run defense has ranked in the NFL's top five in seven of his nine seasons. He's also one of the more popular players in the locker room. When he got suspended in December, Suggs and Elvis Dumervil frequently talked about how they wanted the Ravens to make the playoffs so Ngata could play again that season. Durability has never been a problem for Ngata, who has missed five games due to injury in nine seasons.
Why the Ravens should cut Ngata: He's 31 years old and is on the downside of his career. It also didn't help Ngata's cause that he was suspended four games for using performance-enhancing drugs, which puts a question mark over his strong 2014 season. The Ravens can use all of that cap room created by releasing Ngata to get under the cap and sign a couple of free agents. Plus, the Ravens have his replacement already on the roster in Timmy Jernigan. The Ravens went 3-1 during Ngata's suspension, and they allowed 3.5 yards per rush during that time (eighth-best in the NFL over that span). This proved to the Ravens that they can still play at a high level without Ngata.
Predicted outcome: Ravens keep Ngata. This could go either way, and it's not encouraging that talks about an extension went nowhere last offseason. The Ravens have made it clear that they will seek an extension again this offseason, and it's really up to Ngata to accept it. Ngata is smart enough to know teams aren't going to heavily invest in defensive tackles over the age of 30, especially this offseason. What works in the Ravens' favor is a free-agent class that includes at least five starting interior linemen (all younger than Ngata) who finished in the top 15 in Pro Football Focus' rankings. I'm thinking the Ravens and Ngata can find a common ground on an extension that cuts the defensive tackle's cap number by $5 million and gives him more guaranteed money than he would get elsewhere. While I wouldn't agree with this move after using a second-round pick on Jernigan, this follows the Ravens' trend of giving a third contract to core defensive players (e.g. Suggs and Ray Lewis).