"If we don’t have a deal, we will franchise him," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a telephone interview from Indianapolis where he’s attending the annual NFL scouting combine.
It would cost the Ravens a one-year, $10.2 million salary against the 2009 salary cap to retain Suggs as their franchise player for the second year in a row. Under NFL rules governing the franchise tag, Suggs is due 120 percent of his $8.5 million franchise tag from last season.
There is no signing bonus for franchise players, and the deadline to use the tag is 4 p.m. on Thursday.
The Ravens regard using the franchise tag on Suggs, 26, as a way to secure his services for next season and a mechanism to buy more time to negotiate a long-term deal. Team officials have been negotiating with Suggs’ agent, Gary Wichard, off and on for the past few seasons.
Signing Suggs to a long-term deal is expected to be extremely costly in terms of guaranteed money and the total compensation.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection and a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suggs led the Ravens with eight sacks last season and registered a career-high 102 tackles.
Although Suggs has said in the past that he’s not opposed to the franchise tag and has repeatedly said he wants to continue playing for the Ravens, he told an Arizona radio station he’s reluctant to be given the designation again to stay in Baltimore.
"I like the city, I like the team," Suggs said. "If they don’t see me in their future long-term, do not draw me out when I’m 26. At least let me explore my options.
"If you want me on your team then prove it, do something about it. But if not, we need to part ways and you know it’s been a good run."
Meanwhile, Newsome said that the Ravens have begun talking with an unrestricted free agent class that includes linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Suggs, center Jason Brown, kicker Matt Stover and strong safety Jim Leonhard. Free agency officially begins Feb. 27 at 12:01 a.m.
"We’ve already had contact with the majority of them already," Newsome said.
Asked if the team is hopeful of retaining most of its free agents, Newsome replied: "Yes, we are optimistic."
However, Suggs seemed resigned to the fact that the roster is about to experience some changes.
Asked about Lewis dismissing his suggestion of a hometown discount so that all three linebackers could possibly be re-signed, Suggs said: "That’s him. I was willing to do it in order to keep all of us here, but I guess not. I hope to have him as a teammate.
"He’s a wonderful teammate, great mentor, a great brother. But your big brother can’t always fight your fights for you. Sometimes, you have to step out of big brother’s shadow and fight for yourself."
After cutting former Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister on Monday and freeing up $8 million in salary cap space, the Ravens are an estimated $26.5 million under the NFL salary cap.
That figure doesn’t account for subtracting Suggs’ potential $10.2 million franchise tag from that number. And it doesn’t include tendering restricted free agents Dawan Landry, Demetrius Williams, Sam Koch, Quinn Sypniewski, Derrick Martin, P.J. Daniels, Evan Oglesby and Marcus Maxwell or exclusive-rights free agents Jameel McClain, Steve Hauschka, Jalen Parmalee, Daren Stone, Kelly Talavou, Scott Kuhn, Edgar Jones and Robert McCune.
In the past, the Ravens have retained every restricted free agent. However, the low tender has gone up to $1.01 million with second-round tenders of $1.545 million,a $2.19 middle tender and a $2.79 high tender.
So, it’s improbable that the Ravens will keep all of their restricted free agents this year.
"We have a plan in place for the majority of them," Newsome said.
Plus, Newsome said that the team has signed reserve defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Brandon McKinney to contract extensions.
A former second-round draft pick who said he has recovered from back surgery, Edwards signed a one-year contract prior to the regular-season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The deal will pay him a $1 million base salary, according to NFL Players Association records.
Newsome said McKinney, a restricted free agent, was signed to a three-year contract.
McKinney was signed off waivers from the San Diego Chargers.
"He got cut from San Diego and we liked him," Newsome said. "You can never have enough good defensive linemen."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital