The Ravens will begin talks with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs before next week's draft on a contract extension, general manager Ozzie Newsome told The Sun yesterday.
In four seasons in the league, Suggs has established himself as a top-notch pass rusher, recording at least eight sacks each year since being a first-round pick in 2003.
"Experience has shown us that we can get a fair deal for the player and the organization if we can approach it a year before their contract ends," Newsome said.
The decision to pursue a contract extension with Suggs is a result of letting Adalius Thomas go elsewhere as a free agent.
Knowing they couldn't pay big contracts to both Pro Bowl outside linebackers, the Ravens chose to make the investment in Suggs because he's five years younger than Thomas and has more of an upside.
Thomas signed a five-year, $35 million contract (includes $20 million in bonuses) last month with the New England Patriots.
Given the Ravens' history of keeping productive first-round picks off the free-agent market, Suggs should expect the team to make a strong commitment to keep him.
In June 2005, the Ravens made Todd Heap the highest-paid tight end at that time, signing him to a six-year extension worth $30 million. In June 2006, the Ravens made Ed Reed the highest-paid safety in the NFL, securing him with a six-year, $40 million extension.
If the Ravens can reach an extension with Suggs, they also would get increased salary cap room.
Suggs triggered a $5 million escalator clause for this season after he recorded his 40th career sack in the 2006 season finale. With an extension, the Ravens would be able to lower his cap number for this season.
With 40 career sacks, Suggs ranks third in team history, trailing Peter Boulware (70 sacks) and Michael McCrary (51).
The Ravens, though, are equally impressed with Suggs' progress as an all-around linebacker.
A college defensive end, Suggs had trouble with the transition to his new position, which limited him to being a pass-rush specialist in his rookie season.
But he has made strides in being an every-down linebacker and became a big part in the Ravens' No. 2 NFL ranking against the run last season.