By: Will Burchfield
Haloti Ngata has nothing left to prove.
The veteran defensive tackle is a five-time Pro-Bowler, a two-time All Pro and a Super Bowl champion. His charitable work off the field earned him the Lions’ 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination. He could call it quits tomorrow, and no one would question his legacy.
But Ngata doesn’t want to go out like this. He played just five games in 2017 due to a torn bicep, and watched from the sideline as the Lions’ playoff hopes fizzled down the stretch. To put the proper bow on a potential Hall-of-Fame career, Ngata, who turns 34 this month, would like to return for his 13th season.
And he’d like it to be in Detroit.
“I think if I finished the year healthy I would have been a little closer to probably retiring, but I want to finish the season, so I think I want to keep on playing,” Ngata told 97.1 The Ticket. “I loved being able to be here and help Detroit have more dominance in this league. We’ve had winning seasons, and I just want to continue to build this franchise and get it to where it can be a dominant franchise and a great team, so I definitely want to be here.
“I definitely want to keep on playing, but we’ll have to see once free agency hits.”
Ngata just finished the two-year, $12 million contract he signed in 2016. For the right price, Bob Quinn and the Lions would be smart to bring him back. He’s still a strong run-stopper with his 6’4, 335-pound frame, and the interior of Detroit’s defensive line wasn’t the same in his absence.
There’s a case to be made the Lions would have made the playoffs had Ngata stayed healthy.
“The numbers with the run defense definitely changed, but you never know what could have happened,” Ngata said. “I just tried to be there as much as I could for the guys and help them out. I would like to think if I was playing we would be in the playoffs — and that’s what I wanted to do — but things happen. You never play football without getting injured.
”It is what it is, and hopefully I can continue to play.”
If Ngata is back with the Lions next year, it won’t be with Jim Caldwell. It may not be with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin either. As Ngata said, that’s the business of football.
“I think Bob Quinn wanted to make sure that this team keeps on getting better and better, and I guess his thought was that was as good as we were going to get with Caldwell. But it is what it is. It’s the business of football, and I believe that Bob Quinn will bring in a great coach that will (help us) become a better team and get us to the playoffs,” said Ngata.
Then he added with a chuckle, “I just hope whoever he brings in doesn’t mind having a big D tackle.”