The consolation prize for the Pittsburgh Steelers following their loss to the Baltimore Ravens is the return of the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. The national media and naturally Steelers’ fans have reached the collective conclusion that Pittsburgh is far ahead of where many predicted them to be at the season’s quarter pole and that the rest of the season sets up nicely for them.
After their bye week Roethlisberger returns behind center.
Might the Steelers have beaten the Ravens had Roethlisberger played? Perhaps but the fact of the matter is that teams can only play their schedule and compete against the athletes who take the field. This week the Ravens won and here’s another fact – they lead the AFC North.
Haloti Ngata had his best game as a pro and there have been many. He usually plays very well against the Steelers and on Sunday he was the most disruptive force on the field for either team. His effort was a continuation of what so far is an outstanding season for the former Oregon Duck. Some in the media and most fans wonder aloud, “Why are the Ravens waiting to lock up Ngata to a long-term deal?”
The Ravens would love to do exactly that but it won’t be easy. But as it turns out, inking Ngata to a long term deal presents hurdles outside of the collective control of the Ravens and Ngata’s agent.
Blame it on the Uncapped Year.
The CBA Rules as they relate to the uncapped year contain a provision that is going to make it difficult for the Ravens to give Ngata the contract extension that he deserves.
One of the Uncapped Year rules is the 30% Rule which places a limit on contracts renegotiated and/or extended during the Uncapped Year. Basically, a contract that was signed during a Capped Year (for Ngata, 2006) can be renegotiated and extended during the Uncapped Year, but only if the player’s “salary” increases annually by no more than 30% of his 2009 “salary.”
For the purposes of the 30% Rule, “salary” is basically base salary plus option bonus prorations.
Ngata’s 2009 salary was a little under $2.4M, so that means that the most Ngata could make (signing bonus excluded) is as follows:
While those numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, they only total just over $29.5M, and usually you would expect higher base salaries for the kind of deal that Ngata will command.
So, in order to balance that out, the Ravens would have to give Ngata a huge, upfront signing bonus because signing bonus money is not considered as part of the 30% calculation.
The Ravens have always preferred to split bonus money into a signing bonus in year one and an option bonus in year two (and sometimes a little in year three, as well). But, in Ngata’s case the 30% Rule would force the club to give one upfront signing bonus of $35-40M to balance out the relatively modest base salaries shown above.
The Ravens would probably not be that averse to giving a huge bonus to Ngata – he’s certainly not someone the team would have to worry about with regard to off-field issues – but it’s also an issue of just how much money the Ravens can spend at this point in real world dollars and cents.
During offseason, the Ravens paid a $23M option bonus to Terrell Suggs and have also paid close to $22M in other bonuses to Domonique Foxworth, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Michael Oher, Derrick Mason and Cory Redding. That’s a total of $45M in bonus money paid to just 7 players. As a point of reference, the Ravens spent $112M on their total payroll (all salaries and bonuses) in 2009.
With the possibility of a work stoppage in 2011, it remains to be seen if the Ravens even have the necessary cash flow to take on another bonus – especially one of that magnitude.
Another player that the Ravens will need to extend is unsung Marshal Yanda. Yanda is currently playing under the terms of his restricted free agent deal and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011 barring any unforeseen terms in a new collective bargaining agreement that might restrict his financial freedom. Yanda is a Pro Bowl caliber guard now playing at a high level as a right tackle. The former Kirk Ferentz protégé is a perfect example of how a player short on physical tools can be extremely productive through preparedness, effort and attention to technique.
Coaches were extremely impressed with Yanda’s effort against Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley and with that kind of productivity the team is in no rush to bring back Jared Gaither. It could even persuade the team to IR the enigmatic tackle to free up a roster spot should his back issues continue.
As time goes by it appears more likely that the Ravens dangled Trevor Pryce expecting Rex Ryan to take the bait. The team views Pryce as a player with rapidly diminishing skills and if they didn’t see him that way, why part ways with a player who has had 26 sacks over the past four seasons particularly considering the team’s inability to generate a consistent pass rush? When you also consider that Pryce’s spot was taken by safety Ken Hamlin and the Ravens activated more defensive linemen than usual against the Steelers it suggests that Pryce was hardly priceless and very expendable.
Back to the pass rush, Greg Mattison’s unit hasn’t been able to strike fear in the hearts of opposing signal callers. But despite the absence of an upfront push the team’s pass defense is ranked No. 1 in the league after four games by a comfortable 20+ yard average. So much for the secondary being the team’s Achilles’ heel.
One area that the Ravens need to clean up is their short yardage offense. Emptying the backfield on third and short is flat out ridiculous. Spreading teams out is one thing. Tipping your hand exposes your quarterback particularly against a dangerous pass rush like that of the Steelers.