Ravens don't plan to let Suggs hit the market

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are unwilling to risk allowing Terrell Suggs to enter free agency, and they plan to designate the outside linebacker as their franchise player if a long-term contract isn't struck in the next few weeks. "If we do not have a long-term contract in place before the final day, we will franchise Suggs," general manager Ozzie Newsome said Monday from his office.

"At his position, we feel like he's one of the top two or three outside linebackers in the game. He does a very good job against the run and the pass."

Under the NFL's franchise tag guidelines, Suggs would be paid a one-year tender of $8.065 million. That's the average of the five top linebacker salaries.

The league deadline to use the tag is Feb. 21. Although the Ravens remain in negotiations with Suggs' agent, Gary Wichard, they intend to hold onto the two-time Pro Bowl selection regardless of the outcome of talks that began last April. Wichard declined to comment.

Plus, the Ravens can match any offer sheet from another team. If they opted to let Suggs go, the Ravens would be owed two first-round draft picks in compensation.

That makes it an unlikely scenario that Suggs will play for any team other than Baltimore next season.

If they use the tag, the Ravens would also have the option of continuing to negotiate with Suggs to try to sign him to a long-term deal, which would be more salary-cap friendly. The Ravens are an estimated $5 million to $6 million under the salary cap, but more room could be cleared up if offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden opts to retire or a few veterans are released.

Free agency officially begins Feb. 29.

If Suggs became available as an unrestricted free agent, he would be in heavy demand by multiple teams looking for a pass rusher.

Although Suggs registered a career-low five sacks last season, he recorded a career-high 78 tackles. Drafted in the first round by Baltimore out of Arizona State in 2003, Suggs has 45 sacks in five seasons.

"He's only 25 and has already done a lot in this league," Newsome said.

Meanwhile, the Ravens hired University of North Carolina defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano as a defensive assistant.

Pagano, who coached the Tar Heels' secondary and has prior stints coaching defensive backs with the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns, coached Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed at the University of Miami.

"I appreciate everything Chuck did to help us improve our defense last season," North Carolina coach Butch Davis said in a statement. "He has a great opportunity to return to the NFL and I wish him the best."

With the Raiders, Pagano coached Pro Bowl cornerback Nmandi Asomugha as Oakland led the NFL in pass defense in 2006 and Asomugha intercepted eight passes.

In the first year of Pagano's four-season stint in Cleveland, rookie cornerback Anthony Henry led the league with 10 interceptions as the Browns led the NFL with 33 interceptions. At Miami, Pagano helped recruit and coach four first-round draft picks in Reed, former Ravens cornerback Duane Starks, Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph.

The Ravens also hired University of Florida co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Greg Mattison this weekend. He's expected to coach the inside linebackers.

Mattison coached with Ravens coach John Harbaugh at Western Michigan, and has prior stints as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and Michigan.

The future NFL players Mattison coached at various colleges includes: Denver Broncos defensive end Jarvis Moss, New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, former Ravens defensive linemen Tony Weaver and Sam Adams and former Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl linebacker John Offerdahl.

"When you're a college coach and you coach as long as I have in college, you always have thoughts about the NFL," Mattison told Florida reporters. "I always said that if I was going to go the NFL, it would have to be a perfect situation."

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


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