Ravens franchise Haloti Ngata

OWINGS MILLS -- Unable to lock up defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to a long-term contract at this time due to the unresolved labor situation, the Baltimore Ravens settled for the next best thing by designating the Pro Bowl lineman as their franchise player.

The Ravens assigned Ngata a one-year, $12.5 million tender Tuesday afternoon after phoning his representatives earlier in the day to inform them of their intentions. By using the franchise tag on Ngata and paying him the average of the top five salaries at his position, the Ravens prevented him from hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent.

The Ravens didn't want to insult Ngata with a low-ball financial offer, so they made sure that they secured his services while they continue to negotiate toward an eventual goal of signing him to a multi-year deal.

The primary obstacles that prevented the Ravens from signing Ngata to a long-term deal are a potential pending lockout and the 30-percent rule that mandates that each player's salary can't be increased by more than 30 percent each year.

"The tender allows us to secure Haloti as a Raven right now," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "As we have said, our intention is to enter into a long-term contract with him. We want him to be a Raven."

Whenever the Ravens do hammer out a contract for Ngata, it figures to be a blockbuster contract that will likely exceed Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's five-year, $68 million contract that includes $40 million in guaranteed money. Ngata is seeking a contract in the neighborhood of $15 million annually. Although the NFL Players Association is expected to contest whether teams can use the franchise tag, the NFL management council has advised teams that they can use the designation.

Usually, the Ravens wait until it gets close to the NFL deadline before they use the franchise tag. This time, they did it well in advance of the Feb. 23 deadline. All of the early franchise tags this year are being widely interpreted as a strong sign that the NFL is preparing for a lockout and doesn't expect a new labor deal by the time the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3. Voted the Ravens' Most Valuable Player last year, Ngata is a two-time Pro Bowl selection regarded as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league. The 6-foot-4, 350-pounder recorded 65 tackles last season with a career-high 5 1/2 sacks to go with five pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

Selected with the 12th overall pick of the first round out of Oregon in the 2006 NFL draft, Ngata has lived up to the Ravens' expectations.

"He's not only one of our best players, he's one of our best guys," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta recently told the Carroll County Times. "His leadership, off-the-field intangibles, work ethic, he's just a special guy." The Ravens have a tradition of signing franchise players to long-term deals, doing so with each of their last two players to be designated with the tag: outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister. The Ravens signed Suggs to a six-year, $62.5 million deal two summers ago after he was named their franchise player for two consecutive years. It would likely only get more expensive to sign Ngata in the future. For his career, Ngata has registered 328 tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Since Ngata entered the NFL five years ago and began anchoring the defensive line, the Ravens have allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns with 31 surrendered and the second fewest rushing first downs.

Ngata has been extremely durable, missing two games during the 2009 season with 76 regular-season starts and eight playoff starts.

"Clarence Brooks has really done a great job with Haloti, but a lot of it's really on Haloti," DeCosta said. "He works extremely hard. He's got a great work ethic. He's made himself into one of the better players in the league."

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