Five days and counting.
That's how much time the Ravens have left to negotiate with two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata - or, more accurately, Ngata's agent - before the Sept. 20 deadline for teams to reach a new contract with their franchise players.
For now, Ngata is set to play this season under the franchise tag, which for a defensive tackle is a one-year, $12.5 million contract. Both the Ravens and Ngata are interested in reaching an agreement on a multi-year deal which would give the 27-year-old some long-term security, lessen his 2011 salary cap hit, and make sure he remains a fixture of the Baltimore defense for years to come.
If the Ravens cannot reach a deal with Ngata before the Sept. 20 deadline, he will have to play this year out under the franchise tag. The Ravens would then place the tag on him again next season (the only alternative would be to let him become an unrestricted free agent, which ain't happening), and they'd begin negotiations all over again.
For the record, if Ngata is given the tag again next year, he'd need to be paid 120 percent of this year's salary, which would come out to around $15 million.
Over the last few weeks, we've seen a handful of "franchise players" lock up long-term deals with their teams. In fact, 10 of the 14 players originally given the franchise tag have since worked out multi-year contracts.
You might recognize a few of those guys: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali and Patriots guard Logan Mankins.
When negotiations between Ngata and the Ravens started around the beginning of August, I had heard that the two sides were not in the same ballpark when it came to the figures they had discussed. Ngata told reporters after Sunday's game that the two sides are "getting closer" and they've made progress in their negotiations.
The question is how much closer.
Asked about Ngata's contract situation earlier this week, head coach John Harbaugh said he's staying out of any discussions about the defensive tackle's future.
"Hey, I'm on record, I've already done as much as I can do," Harbaugh said. "The pressure is on. I said we wanted Haloti way back when. I happen to be good friends with Haloti's agent and, of course, very good friends with Ozzie and Steve. So, I'm pulling for both sides."
Ngata continues to dominate on the field, and his performance against the Steelers last Sunday - four tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a batted pass which resulted in an interception - was one hell of a negotiating tool. Ngata's agent should just take that game film, walk into Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome's office, place it on the desk, and walk out.
You'd think not much else would be needed, but these talks are complicated and there's a lot of money involved.
Newsome, Ngata and Harbaugh have to just hope that enough can get done over the next five days to reach a deal, or else we'll just have to start this dance again next offseason.