Haloti Ngata has been one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league since being drafted in 2006. (Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI)
The Ravens locked up Haloti Ngata Tuesday, just before the window closed on signing franchise tag players until after the season ends. And while Ngata is obviously a huge piece of Baltimore's puzzle going forward -- and he was paid like it, with a reported $40 million coming his way over the first two years of his new five-year, $61 million deal -- the signing also allows the Ravens to turn their attention elsewhere next summer.
Specifically, toward Ray Rice, who's in the final year of his rookie deal and set for a Sears Tower-sized raise over the $555,000 he's making this season.
So far, every indication has been that Rice wants to stay in Baltimore long-term, an outcome the Ravens no doubt desire. But Ngata's signing now means that the franchise tag is wide open as a fallback scenario for Baltimore, should an extended deal with Rice not come to fruition fast enough.
Had Baltimore not re-signed Ngata by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, by league rule, he would have played out the 2011 season under the franchise tag at a rate of $12.5 million, then could have theoretically reached free agency in the offseason.
In the Ravens' worst-case scenario, they could have faced a choice between using the franchise tag on Ngata or Rice, while the other hit the open market.