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WESTMINSTER — Terrell Suggs glanced at the cameras, flashing a knowing smile as he shared an inside joke that’s rapidly becoming common knowledge.
Then, the Baltimore Ravens’ Pro Bowl outside linebacker looked downward at his biceps Monday morning, flexing slightly in a display of pride. His expanded upper body is by design, and Suggs dropped an unsubtle hint at one reason why he bulked up during the offseason.
"I could be trying to play more defensive end for more reasons than one," Suggs quipped following the Ravens’ opening practice at McDaniel College.
In the NFL marketplace, accomplished pass rushers like Suggs command big dollars. And Suggs’ bank account could soon experience the same increasing effect as his muscles entering the final year of his contract.
The landmark contract recently inked by Suggs’ friendly rival, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney — a six-year, $72 million pact that included a $30 million signing bonus — just raised the stakes for every quarterback-harassing defender in the league. It’s the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history.
Suggs, though, isn’t looking to break Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti’s piggy bank. He’s not looking to compete financially with Freeney, preferring to pursue bragging rights with more sacks and tackles.
"Dwight Freeney’s deal caught everybody’s attention," Suggs said. "He’s a great player and he deserves what they gave him. But it’s not like I’m going to be saying what he gets I should get."
Nonetheless, Suggs is likely headed for a jackpot.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has reiterated several times that Suggs is the team’s top negotiating priority, opening discussions for a potential long-term contract extension in April. So far, contract talks with Suggs’ representative, Gary Wichard, have apparently been amicable with both Suggs and the team expressing confidence that a deal will ultimately be struck.
From his standpoint, Suggs is concentrating on the business of football. Not escalator clauses and incentive packages.
"I’m not worried about it," he said. "I’m happy to be a Raven. Whenever that stuff happens, it happens. You all asked was I going to hold out for another one? I told you, ‘No.’
"I was here five days earlier instead of one like I usually do. I’m trying to grow up professionally."
Suggs and Freeney both train in Arizona during the offseason, and they share the same agent.
The benchmark for Suggs’ prospective deal seems to be the five-year, $35 million contract inked by former Ravens All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas this spring with the New England Patriots, a deal that included $20 million in guaranteed money.
Suggs’ numbers are likely to exceed Thomas’, though. He won’t celebrate his 25th birthday until October, and he’s five years younger than Thomas.
Suggs registered his 40th career sack in the Ravens’ regular-season finale last season against the Buffalo Bills, an achievement that triggered an escalator clause and boosted his base salary to $5 million for this season.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Suggs is coming off an 86-tackle season where he posted 9 1/2 sacks, forced three fumbles and recovered two more. His game has come a long way since being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 as a 20-year-old still struggling with his conditioning and understanding of how to play linebacker.
"When I came here, I was out of shape, didn’t know how to play linebacker," said Suggs, who was drafted 10th overall following a consensus All-American career at Arizona State. "They had to bring me along slowly. Remember, I only played on third downs pretty much the whole season, and then it worked out for me."
And for the Ravens.
In four seasons, Suggs has 277 tackles, three interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries.
Instead of discussing dreams of personal glory or statistical goals like many football players, Suggs had an altogether different response when asked what he wants to get done this season. His chief pursuit is making it to the Super Bowl, and winning it in his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz.
It sounds like a sign of emerging maturity.
"Super Bowl, that’s the only personal goal I got because you get all those personal accolades and they only last for the moment," Suggs said. "People will always remember the Ravens of 2000, and people will always remember the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. Nobody ever remembers the Pro Bowlers that year, or who won the MVP. The only thing that lasts through the ages is championships."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.