What a difference a day makes.
Reports surfaced just a week or so ago that the Ravens made a strong offer to Haloti Ngata to reduce his cap number, extend his contract, and enable him to retire a Raven. Just as quickly, the interpretation of “strong” unraveled into a syntactical argument that truly strong offers are accepted whereas reportedly strong offers are political statements meant to apply pressure in negotiations.
The next day, of course, new reports indicated that the Ravens and Ngata were not close to terms on an extension.
That stalemate renewed prior speculation about Ngata’s desire to retire a Raven, his pride to retain his current salary, the Ravens’ ability to overcome his dead money or replace him effectively with the cleared space that cutting him would create, and so forth. This speculation is predicated on leverage.
The great thing about leverage in the NFL in February and March is that it is constantly changing on the basis of other teams’ actions.
Today two important developments occurred in the D-Line market.
First, the San Francisco 49ers agreed to a two-year deal with Darnell Dockett. Dockett is a 3-4 DE with multiple Pro Bowls to his name (he has also shown an impressive knack for rushing the passer as a 3-4 D-Lineman). He is slightly older than Ngata and recovering from an ACL injury. Nonetheless, his new contract, which averages $3.75 million a year is telling about the value of older linemen.
The second event was New England’s decision to decline the $4 million option for Vince Wilfork. Wilfork is a 3-4 NT, and also slightly older than Ngata. But his cap assessment for this year, had it been honored, was only $8.9 million. That is far lower than Ngata’s but was still too high for the Patriots.
Now let’s give fair due to Haloti. Not only is he younger than Dockett and Wilfork, he is a hybrid in terms of size and athleticism; his ability to play both NT and DE capably is a special asset. He also did not show particular decline in production last year.
That said, the market for over-30 D-linemen is manifesting in increasingly favorable ways for the Ravens as free agency nears.