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The recent gigantic contract given to Colts DE Dwight Freeney certainly has many shaking their heads and has caused dismay among many Ravens fans who are now concerned that it may have priced Terrell Suggs out of the Ravens reach.  The idea of giving any player a bonus anywhere near $30M seems ludicrous but as we are seeing, that is the price to be paid under the new CBA. 
So, will the Ravens join the madness and play along? 
And, can they even do so?
As was my opinion in May[1], the answer to both is still “YES”.
Since coming to Baltimore, the Ravens have had unparalleled success drafting in the first Round.  That success has been almost equally matched by their success in re-signing those first round picks.  GM Ozzie Newsome loves to pick them and he loves to keep them and given his success in drafting them, why not? 
Of their first 9 first round picks, the Ravens only failed to re-sign 2 of them upon the expiration of the player’s rookie deal.  In both cases, there were legitimate, if not divergent, reasons.  In the most recent case, the Ravens failed to re-sign WR Travis Taylor because they simply didn’t want to, and we all, unfortunately, know why. 
The other was CB Dwayne Starks who left as a free agent after the 2001 season.  This, however, was the salary cap purge year, which essentially made it impossible for the Ravens to even consider re-signing Starks.  However, on several occasions over the years, Ozzie has lamented how he would have liked to have re-signed Starks, but he simply wasn’t able to.  Based on these comments, I think it’s fair to say that had he had the available cap space to do so, Ozzie would have also retained Starks (for better or for worse).
So, now, it’s Suggs’ turn, and you have to think that Ozzie feels the same way about Suggs as he has about his other first rounders.  Suggs is simply too young and too talented to let get away.  The Ravens know that they are going to have to pay up and pay handsomely.  This is part of the reason that they were begrudgingly willing to allow Adalius Thomas to leave this past March.  They simply weren’t willing to commit to AD at the cost of then losing Suggs. 
Unfortunately, when you develop talent the way the Ravens have, you, at times, have to make tough choices.  The Ravens swallowed hard and made that choice and I highly doubt that they will allow both to leave.
So, T Sizzle is going to get paid and paid well.  Yes, there are plenty of other teams that have more (and in many cases, much more) cap space this year (and next) than the Ravens do, but that’s not something that the Ravens can’t overcome, simply because they are unlikely to let the situation get to that point.  Suggs will either be re-signed before then or he will be franchised, so the Ravens are going to be the only bidders. 
If he is re-signed, the cap room necessary for this year is already slated to be paid to Sizzle via his base salary of $5M.  Any new deal would come with a reduction of that base down to the minimum base salary of $545K, so conceivably there is enough room in this year’s cap to give him a bonus of close to $27M on a straight 6-year deal ($5M –  $545K x 6 years). 
That would add nothing to this year’s cap and would put his deal somewhere in between the deal given to Saints DE Charles Grant in May and the one recently given to Freeney.  And that’s likely where it should be. 
More likely though, any new deal would come with a split bonus that the Ravens have favored in their contract extensions, which splits the bonus up over 2 or 3 years.  As such, they would be able to spread the cap hits from the bonus out over the entire 7 years of a new deal and lessen the impact of the deal for this year and next when they are likely to feel the tightest squeeze. 
By 2009, Ray Lewis’ contract will have expired and several of the older players – Mike Flynn, Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, Jon Ogden, Steve McNair, Trevor Pryce – will likely no longer be with the team, either by their or the team’s choice[2].  Since most of those deals are pro-rated through 2009 or 2010, the cap impact of those releases or retirements will be the realization of plenty enough cap room to keep Suggs.      
As far as slapping Suggs with the franchise tag, yes, the Ravens don’t like to use the franchise tag, but this is a special case.  You simply do not let a player like Suggs get away for just a late third round compensatory pick.  The Ravens did not franchise AD, not because of their distaste for the franchise tag, but because they simply did not want to commit to AD long term (hence no long term deal) and did not want to manipulate their cap – and deal with the long term cap ramifications of doing so – as would have been necessary to create the cap room to franchise AD. 
Suggs is different.  He’ll be 25, not 30, and he’s entering his prime.  The impact of any cap maneuvers that would be necessary to franchise Suggs would be minimized because any lasting cap ramifications would coincide with Suggs, at least in theory, still being a young, valuable, contributing player.  Yes, the window for this roster may be closing, but Suggs is young enough – along with the likes of Todd Heap, Ed Reed, Willis McGahee, Mark Clayton, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry, Demetrius Williams, Jason Brown, Ben Grubbs and others – to be part of the next great Ravens’ roster.
The same probably could not be said – at least with as much certainty – of AD, who will be 32 by the third year of his deal.  Simply put, the restructuring of deals that would have been necessary to retain AD via the franchise tag may very well have outlasted AD’s value to the team.  For Suggs, the fear of that is lessened due to his age. 
As we’ve heard often, the Ravens do not like to use the tag, but they haven’t liked it since they used it on Wally Williams in 1997.  But that didn’t stop them from using it twice on Chris McAlister, and I don’t think they would hesitate to do so again in this case.
So, in conclusion, I just don’t think there is any way that the Ravens let Terrell Suggs hit the free agent market in March of 2008.  I trust that Ozzie is not going to let a 25-year old star pass rusher gets away as a free agent for what will amount to a late third round comp. pick. 
We often hear the credo “In Oz We Trust.” Count me among those who believe in it.
As such, I trust that Terrell Suggs will be a Raven in 2008 and likely, far beyond that. 


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Brian McFarland

About Brian McFarland

Known on Ravens Message Boards as "B-more Ravor", Brian is a life-long Baltimorean and an avid fan of the Ravens and all Baltimore sports.  A PSL holder since 1998, Brian has garnered a reputation as a cap-guru because of his strange (actually warped) desire to wade through the intricacies of the NFL's salary cap and actually make sense of it for those of us who view it as inviting as IRS Tax Code.      Brian, who hails from Catonsville, MD and still resides there, is married and has two children. More from Brian McFarland


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