Prohibited by NFL rules to sign Haloti Ngata to a long-term deal, the Ravens secured the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle for next season by placing the franchise tag on him. If the Ravens' track record holds up, this is the first step to making him "a Raven for life."
The last two players who have received the franchise tag from the Ravens — cornerback Chris McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs — eventually signed muti-year deals that were among the richest for their positions at the time.
Ngata, 27, will receive a one-year tender estimated at $12.5 million, which is the projected franchise number for defensive tackles.
The franchise tag allows teams to keep their most valuable free agent off the market by paying him the average salary of the top five players at his position. The Ravens used the non-exclusive franchise tag, which means another team would have to give up two first-round picks in order to sign Ngata away from them.
Placing the franchise designation on Ngata, who was voted as the team's Most Valuable Player by the media, doesn't preclude the Ravens from signing him to a long-term deal when a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
"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."
NFL rules won't allow the Ravens to sign Ngata to an extension. Under the current CBA, a player can't renegotiate or receive an extension if he made 30 percent more in 2010 than 2009. Because Ngata's salary more than doubled last season (he went from $823,750 in 2009 to $1.7 million in 2010), the only way the Ravens could protect his rights was by using the tag.
"We're on record and everybody knows that we want Haloti to be a Raven for life," coach John Harbaugh told WBAL on Tuesday night. "I'm sure we're going to get it done. There are some reasons why we can't do it here before the lockout. It's really unfortunate. Because if it was possible to do it, I'm pretty sure we'd have it done."
This marks the most expensive tag in Ravens history, surpassing the ones given to linebacker Terrell Suggs ($8 million in 2008 and $10.2 million in 2009) and cornerback Chris McAlister ($5.9 million in 2003 and $6.8 million in 2004).
Although Ngata is looking for a deal similar to the one signed by rookie Ndamukong Suh (a five-year, $68 million contract with Detroit that included $40 million guaranteed) and would have become one of the top free agents available this offseason, the franchise tag is a still a significant upgrade for Ngata. The $12.5 million tender for one season triples what he earned in salary for his first five seasons combined ($3.65 million).
Since being the 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Ngata is the anchor of a defensive line that has surrendered a league-low 31 rushing touchdowns and the NFL's second-fewest rushing first downs.
Ngata, who declined comment Tuesday, had previously said he didn't want to receive the tag. He becomes the sixth player — and the fifth Tuesday — to receive a franchise tag this offseason, joining Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson, New York Jets linebacker David Harris and New England guard Logan Mankins.
Others expected to get the tag are: Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley and Kansas City linebacker Tamba Ali.
The 14-day window to apply the tag ends Feb. 24.
Note: Jim Zorn was hired as the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach just 19 days after being fired by the Ravens.
Zorn lasted only one season as the Ravens quarterbacks coach because of philosophical differences with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, according to a league source. Joe Flacco voiced his disappointment over Zorn's departure, saying "I'm not going to be happy about it for a long time."
Zorn's job is now to tutor Matt Cassel a month after the Ravens routed the Chiefs in the playoffs and held Kansas City's quarterback to 70 yards passing and a 20.4 rating.
"We are excited to finalize our coaching staff today with the addition of Jim Zorn," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "As a former head coach with more than two decades of experience playing and coaching the quarterback position in the NFL, Jim has a tremendous working knowledge of the game, and he will play a big role in the continued development of our football team."