Ravens come out winners in Haloti Ngata trade

The Baltimore Ravens made the best out of tough situation Tuesday when they traded defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and a seventh-round pick to the Detroit Lions for fourth- and a fifth-round picks.

Would the Ravens have preferred to get an extension done with Ngata to allow him to finish his career with the franchise? Definitely. Are the Ravens a better team with Ngata pushing around blockers up front? No doubt. Did the Ravens want more in return for Ngata in the trade? Absolutely.

But the Ravens faced two options when a deal couldn't get done with Ngata: Release him and get nothing in return or trade him and get a couple of mid-round draft picks.

This is where the Ravens come out winners. The Ravens weren't going to be able to do anything in free agency by carrying Ngata's team-high $16 million cap figure. So, the Ravens created $8.5 million in much-needed cap space that can be used to sign a wide receiver, running back and tight end in free agency, and picked up a couple of mid-round picks along the way.

There's plenty of teeth-gnashing happening on sports radio and Twitter because Ngata has long been the foundation of the Ravens' defense. If you're putting together the Ravens' Mount Rushmore of defense, Ngata would be there alongside Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. He somehow fell to the Ravens at the 12th pick in the 2006 draft, shut down the middle of the line for nearly a decade and helped the Ravens to a 2012 Super Bowl title. The Ravens ranked in the top five in run defense in seven of Ngata's nine seasons.

Before anyone writes off the season one day into free agency, Ngata wasn't the Ngata from five years ago and the Ravens have his replacement already on the team in Timmy Jernigan. Ngata had disappointing seasons in 2012 and 2013 and was suspended four games during a critical part of 2014 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. When Ngata sat out December, the Ravens went 3-1 with Jernigan and allowed an average of 94.2 yards rushing per game (10th-fewest in NFL during that span). Even with Ngata gone, the Ravens' defensive line will still be among the deepest and strongest positions on the team.

An argument can be made that Ngata did the Ravens a favor by not agreeing to an extension. He's 31 years old, and the decline in 30-something defensive tackles can often be rapid. There were no guarantees that Ngata was going to play at a high level for the next two to three years.

It was a rough start to free agency for the Ravens, who watched three of their top four free agents (wide receiver Torrey Smith, pass rusher Pernell McPhee and tight end Owen Daniels) sign elsewhere in addition to losing a franchise fixture in Ngata. The Ravens, though, have long been the model of patience in free agency, believing teams that spend in March don't often play in January.

For those who want to criticize the Ravens' trading of Ngata, it's difficult to come up with a better result when it was clear that Ngata wasn't going to sign an extension. If the Ravens held on to Ngata, they would have had no way of addressing voids on the offensive side. The Ravens got something for Ngata instead of parting ways with nothing.

The additional $8.5 million in cap space will go a long way in replacing Smith and Daniels. This also will give the Ravens 10 total picks (when you factor in compensatory picks) in the draft, where they have done most of their work in building six playoff teams in seven years. Since 2010, the Ravens have drafted four impact players in the fourth and fifth rounds: McPhee, tight end Dennis Pitta, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and right tackle Rick Wagner.

The Ravens will feel the loss from parting ways with one of the best players in franchise history. It just shouldn't overshadow what the Ravens gained as a result, which is a means to improve this team in free agency and in the draft.