Suggs: 'It's football time now'

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' arrival at team headquarters after skipping training camp signals more than the return of his trademark pass-rushing and trash-talking. Suggs' first practice Monday after signing his one-year, $8.47 million tender ended a nearly month-long protest after being named the team's franchise player this winter.

The decision to forego camp came after the Ravens and Suggs' agent were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract extension prior to an NFL deadline in late July despite a lucrative, last-minute offer.

"It was just the business side of it, I really didn't want to do it because I love football and running around," Suggs said. "It was really no big deal. It was a July 21 decision: 'Nah, I ain't going to go yet.'

"I look at it as it gave me an extended period of time to further prepare myself for the season. It's really unfortunate that I didn't get in here on time and go to war with my boys, but that time is gone now and I'm ready to play some football."

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Suggs is slated to play roughly 15 snaps or the entire first quarter Saturday night against the St. Louis Rams.

Suggs, 25, is likely to sit out the Ravens' preseason finale and prepare for full-time duty in the season opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although working out with a personal trainer in Arizona isn't the equivalent of grappling with hefty offensive tackles, Suggs appears to be in sufficient condition.

"It looks like he's in really good shape," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's not football practice what he's been doing. You could tell, the change of direction and the burst, but he was competing and fighting. He'll probably be a little sore."

Suggs' dispute with the team began shortly after the team prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent by franchising him Feb. 19.

Nearly two weeks later, he filed a grievance where he stated that the team should pay him the defensive end tender, which carries $800,000 more than the linebacker tag, claiming he played more than half his snaps at defensive end.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached as a new hybrid defensive end-linebacker tag was created that split the difference.

Under collective bargaining agreement rules that govern franchise players, Suggs can't be penalized for his hiatus. There were no conditions attached to his return, and the team is free to franchise him again after this season with a price tag in excess of $10 million.

This is Suggs' first major joust with the financial side of the game.

"Unfortunately, this is the part of the business side that's not really that fun," Suggs said. "The fans don't really know and understand the business side. They don't watch the game for, 'Oh, this guy is making this amount of money.' They want to see you play.

"I think the business side sucks for the fans and it sucks for everybody involved because it's a tug-of-war and everybody's pulling in different directions. It sucks, but it's over. I still achieved what I wanted. I'm still in purple and black, not anywhere else."

Under league rules, the Ravens can't finalize a new contract with Suggs during the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome has made it clear that Suggs is in the team's long-term plans.

"I'm highly optimistic they'll eventually get something done," Suggs said. "I can't worry about it now. I haven't lost faith in them. I think they still want me here. They welcomed me back with open arms.

"It's football time now. It's not fair to my teammates and it's not fair to the fans to have me worried about that all year. So, I'm just going to play."

The Ravens cut wide receiver Kerry Reed to make room for Suggs.

In five NFL seasons, the former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has 45 sacks to rank third in team history. He slumped to a career-low five sacks last season, drawing a lot of double-teams whenever defensive end Trevor Pryce was out of the lineup.

"It's the Suggs show," cornerback Frank Walker said. "He's a freak of nature."

After missing those grueling workouts at McDaniel College, Suggs has a penance due beyond the practice field and weight room.

He's paying for an expensive dinner Thursday night, treating the entire front seven, including the backups.

"I think they're going to aim for the fences on this one," Suggs said. "I've got to get two party buses. That's probably why that [contract] number is so big."

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata joked that he may consume three porterhouse steaks, sample the dessert cart and grab some snacks for the road. The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder said he expects the limousine treatment, too.

"We get to treat him like a rookie, so that's going to be great," Ngata said. "I'm a big eater. He can expect a couple hundred bucks from me. I'll definitely get a to-go box to feed my wife and dogs. I'm ready for a cheesecake."

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

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