Ravens hope to hold onto Suggs

OWINGS MILLS -- Hours after signing his three-year contract extension last month, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan joked that he hopes there's enough money left over to sign impending free agent outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "I would have gone the opposite order," Ryan said after receiving a raise to between $1.3 million and $1.5 million per season.

"I would have given money to Suggs to keep him and then thrown me a bone afterwards."

Although the Ravens definitely want to sign Suggs, the two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher will be far more expensive to retain than his coach.

Today marks the first day that NFL teams can designate a franchise player by paying them a one-year tender that's the average of the top five salaries at their position.

In Suggs' case, the franchise tag will cost $8.065 million against this year's salary cap.

However, the Ravens are estimated to be between $5 million and $6 million under the salary cap. The NFL-mandated deadline to use the tag is Feb. 21. If Suggs isn't assigned the franchise player or signed to a new contract, then he will become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 28 at 12:01 a.m. and eligible to sign with any team.

The Ravens have been in discussions with Suggs' agent, Gary Wichard, since last April, in hopes of striking a long-term contract extension.

"We remain in negotiations," general manager Ozzie Newsome said earlier this week.

It's believed that Suggs is seeking a contract in excess of the five-year, $35 million pact that included $20 million in guaranteed money that former Baltimore linebacker Adalius Thomas signed last year with the New England Patriots.

And there has been speculation in league circles that Suggs is seeking even higher figures as his agent negotiated Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney's landmark six-year, $72 million extension that includes $30 million in guaranteed money.

A new deal would be a more salary-cap friendly option to keep Suggs, 25, who has recorded 45 career sacks in five seasons.

While attending an Arizona State basketball game last month, Suggs, who grew up in Chandler, Ariz., told Phoenix reporters that he would be interested in signing with the Arizona Cardinals if things fall through with the Ravens.

"I'll go to anybody who wants me," Suggs said. "I'd love to be a Cardinal. I went to high school here. I went to college here. Why not play a little bit of professional ball here?"

It's believed that Suggs' preference, though, is to remain in Baltimore.

While cleaning out his locker Dec. 31 after coach Brian Billick was fired, Suggs expressed hope that he would be re-signed.

"I've always said and believe in my heart that I'm a Raven," Suggs said. "I love the city of Baltimore. On the front office side, we're decided by the decisions and moves they make, on whether they see me as a Raven."

Suggs was paid $5 million last season as he registered a career-low five sacks to lead the team. He also registered a career-high 78 tackles.

Ryan didn't seem too worried about the Ravens holding onto Suggs.

"I certainly hope so," he said. "He's a rare player. Shoot, it's a lot easier to win with him than it would be to play against him."

NOTES: In a television interview at the Pro Bowl, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis weighed in on Billick's firing for the first time. "I think the thing you have to understand is he had a 10-year tenure here, we done some good things, we won the Super Bowl together, we was in the playoffs four or five times," Lewis said. "When things start going wrong, the first person usually looked at is the head coach. The decision that Steve [Bisciotti] made, hey, it was his decision. I briefly spoke to John Harbaugh. He sounds like a very hyper guy. It's going to be good stuff. I think he's really going to relate to our players." ...

Lewis is entering the final year of his contract and is due a $6.5 million base salary next season. When asked if he wanted to finish his career in Baltimore, Lewis replied: "Would I play somewhere else? The business creates that. I believe your legacy is not over a city. It's how you play the game. I'm a Raven for life, bottom line. Purple and black is what I do, but the business side of it, if it takes over, it takes over."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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