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Suggs gets the Franchise Tag

Street Talk Suggs gets the Franchise Tag

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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens designated outside linebacker Terrell Suggs as their franchise player Tuesday, an expensive move that prevents the two-time Pro Bowl selection from becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month and buys the front office more time to negotiate a long-term contract.

Suggs will be given a one-year contract of $8.065 million, the average salary of the five highest paid linebackers in the NFL last season.

Under league rules, the Ravens can match any competing offer for Suggs, 25, or receive two first-round draft picks as compensation. The NFL deadline to use the tag was Thursday.

"Putting the franchise tag on Suggs just ensures that we will retain his rights," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said during a telephone interview from Indianapolis, where he’s attending NFL competition committee meetings. "I have the ability to match an offer if some team decides to put an offer on him. That’s what the tag is for."

The Ravens have been trying to strike a deal for Suggs since April, negotiating with his agent, Gary Wichard, off and on throughout the past year.

Suggs has been hoping for a contract that approaches what Wichard got Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney last year: a six-year, $72 million pact that includes $30 million in guarantees.

The Ravens haven’t been willing to meet that sort of proposal, but talks have remained amicable.

"Gary Wichard has shown with some of his other clients, once the tag has been executed, that a deal can get done," Newsome said. "If we can get to the table, hopefully, we can get a deal done."

Suggs, who has said he wouldn’t have a problem with the franchise tag, and his agent didn’t return telephone calls and e-mails.

One published report suggested that Suggs may try to challenge whether he should be classified as a linebacker or a defensive end. If Suggs was designated as a defensive end franchise player, he would be paid $8.879 million for a raise of $814,000.

Newsome countered that argument, though.

"Well, in our defense, Terrell has always been an outside linebacker, was drafted as an outside linebacker and that’s why he was designated as such," Newsome said.

Until he signs his contract, Suggs is not required to attend any offseason minicamps or training camp.

Under the terms of the franchise tag, Suggs will not receive a signing bonus and will be paid his salary during the season with 17 game checks worth $474,414 apiece.

Suggs was paid $5 million last year after triggering an incentive clause in his contract at the end of the 2006 season.

In five seasons, Suggs has 45 sacks to rank third in franchise history behind Peter Boulware (70) and Michael McCrary (51). Although he had a career-low five sacks last year, he recorded a career-high 78 tackles.

Since the 2003 season when he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suggs ranks sixth in the league in sacks behind Jason Taylor, Aaron Schobel, Dwight Freeney, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Michael Strahan.

Drafted in the first round, Suggs is the first player franchised by the Ravens since cornerback Chris McAlister, who was assigned the tag in 2003 and 2004.

“I’ve always said and believe in my heart that I’m a Raven,” Suggs said at the end of the season. “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.”

Newsome cited the Ravens’ history of retaining their top players, including offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, tight end Todd Heap, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and McAlister. McAlister signed a seven-year, $55 million contract in 2004 while playing under the franchise tag.

"[Suggs] is one of our best players, and our success with re-signing our best players is very good," Newsome said.

The Ravens were estimated to be between $5 million and $6 million under the salary cap, but created $1.7 million in space last week when tight end Todd Heap restructured his contract and lowered his 2008 salary-cap figure to $3.49 million.

Plus, the Ravens are expected to use a second-round tender worth $1.47 million to retain restricted free agent offensive guard Jason Brown.

Despite a tight cap situation, Newsome said the team is still capable of acquiring players in free agency.

"I would say if there’s a player we want to pursue," Newsome said, "we would have the ability to do so."

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

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson

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