When the Baltimore Ravens signed linebacker Terrell Suggs to an extension last year, the sides reached an agreement 22 days before the start of free agency. The Ravens have yet to strike a similar deal with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and there's only eight days before free agency starts.
The clock is definitely clicking, and it's safe to say negotiations with Ngata haven't gone as smoothly as they did with Suggs.
Perhaps, Ngata believes another team will pay him more than the Ravens. Perhaps, Ngata believes the Indianapolis Colts will be that team.
The Ravens need to reduce Ngata's team-high $16 million salary-cap figure by March 10 (when all teams have to be under the cap) or they presumably will have to cut one of the best players in franchise history.
This is what the Ravens can realistically offer: A little more guaranteed money than his $8.5 million base salary in 2015 and a chance to retire as a Raven with a couple more years added to his contract. But, if Ngata feels he can make significantly more in the free-agent market, he won't sign an extension with the Ravens and will force the team to set him free.
Here are four reasons why the Colts would be the favorite to land Ngata if he becomes a free agent:
Ngata's ties to Colts coach Chuck Pagano. They spent four years together in Baltimore, and Pagano was Ngata's defensive coordinator in 2011. Pagano didn't hide his admiration for Ngata before the teams met last season, calling Ngata "a game wrecker." He knows the impact Ngata can make on a run defense. In Pagano's three seasons as the Colts coach, Indianapolis ranked in the bottom half of run defense: 2012 (29th), 2013 (26th), 2014 (18th). In Ngata's nine NFL seasons, the Ravens ranked in the top five in run defense seven times.
The pipeline of defensive linemen from Baltimore to Indianapolis. In two of the past three offseasons, the Colts have signed a Ravens' free-agent defensive lineman. It was defensive end Cory Redding in 2012 and defensive tackle Arthur Jones in 2014. This would be a familiar defense as well as familiar faces for Ngata, especially if the Colts re-sign Redding in free agency.
The sting of the AFC Championship loss in New England. The Colts know it was their run defense that ruined their hopes of reaching the Super Bowl. LeGarrette Blount ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns against Indianapolis. One week earlier, the Patriots didn't hand the ball off once in the second half against Ngata and the Ravens. This wasn't the first game last season where the run defense let down the Colts. In five regular-season losses, Indianapolis allowed 143.8 yards on the ground. Getting Ngata would be a big step forward for the Colts.
The Colts have plenty of money to spend. Indianapolis has the sixth-most cap space in the NFL at $41.5 million. That means the Colts can offer more than the Ravens, who rank near the bottom of the NFL in cap room. The Colts' spending history says the team will open its wallet for Ngata. This is the same team that paid more than $5 million per season for 49ers backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and more than $6 million per season for Jones. Can you imagine what they would pay for a five-time Pro Bowl lineman in Ngata?
Other teams may show interest in Ngata if he is released by the Ravens. The Detroit Lions would have a huge hole in the middle of their defensive line if they lost Ndamukong Suh in free agency, and they also have two former Ravens coaches (head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin).
Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence about a Ngata extension getting done when he spoke at the NFL combine a little over a week ago. But the Ravens aren't going to overpay for Ngata because they have his replacement already on the roster in Timmy Jernigan, who did a solid job in filling in during Ngata's four-game suspension in December.
When it comes to allowing star players to finish out their careers with the Ravens, the team has a good track record. The Ravens were successful in doing so with Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and likely Suggs, but they failed to get Ed Reed to stay and retire a Raven.
"I put Haloti [Ngata] in that group of iconic players that helped us to get where we are as a franchise," owner Steve Bisciotti said. "Again, that’s Ozzie [Newsome's] job to negotiate the nuances of those contracts that allow us to get some cap relief and give Haloti a chance to stay here."
Bisciotti then alluded to Ngata's television commercials with a regional convenience store, saying, "Twenty-eight teams don’t have Royal Farms stores in their area, so there is some incentive for him to want to stay here to close things out.”