Suggs' pursuit of sacks worth bundle for Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

When he stands beside Ray Lewis and Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs makes the other Ravens linebackers look small. It looks like someone inflated his muscles with helium during the offseason. Suggs looks like a defensive end, not a linebacker.

"I could be trying to play more defensive end than linebacker for more reasons than one," Suggs said.

Hint, hint.

Suggs is in the final year of his contract and involved in negotiations on an extension with the Ravens. More sacks mean more money. Suggs could be leaving all kinds of subtle messages about a new deal throughout the year, but the negotiations won't bother him. In the past, contracts have affected the play of others such as Lewis, Ed Hartwell and Gary Baxter.

But Suggs is different. He's too young, too big, having way too much fun and possibly on the verge of NFL superstardom. Sooner or later, he is going to command a big contract either with the Ravens or as a free agent.

"I'm not worried about it," Suggs said of the negotiations. "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 [contract]? I told you no. I was here five days earlier instead of one like I usually do. I'm trying to grow up professionally."

It sounds almost too good to be true.

Even when athletes say one thing in public, they sometimes behave differently in private. The Ravens know. Years ago, several players who were more concerned about their contracts than the team almost destroyed it. But there is no panic from Suggs or team officials about trying to get a deal done soon.

According to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Suggs will benefit from a new trend in the NFL in which owners are shelling out enormous sums of money for mediocre players. Who would have thought former Ravens offensive tackle Tony Pashos would have signed a five-year, $24 million contract during the offseason? And who imagined that former Raven Ovie Mughelli would become the highest-paid fullback in league history? "These kids are so aware that there is so much money out there that they are blowing it up that last year," Newsome said. "There is, and should be, no concern by Terrell Suggs."

Suggs is only 24 and growing. He has added 9 pounds of bulk since last season. In four seasons, he has been named to the Pro Bowl twice, including last season when he made 86 tackles according to Ravens statistics and was tied for third on the team in sacks with 9 1/2 .

When he came to Baltimore as the 10th pick in the 2003 draft, he was a pass-rushing specialist who was too small to be a defensive end and too big to be an outside linebacker. He couldn't get into pass coverage and often freelanced, especially when it came to stopping the run.

Now, Suggs is a complete linebacker and still one of the fiercest pass rushers in the game.

"When I came here, I was out of shape, didn't know how to play linebacker, couldn't drop [into coverage]," Suggs said of his rookie season, in which he was named the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year. "They had to bring me along slowly. When I was a rookie, it was a longer process with me. Remember, I only played on third downs pretty much the whole season, and then it worked out for me."

That's why the Ravens will eventually reward Suggs with a new, lucrative contract. By the time he is finished playing, he could develop into one of the best ever.

He has tremendous enthusiasm, which explains why he likes to dance after every sack. His enthusiasm is matched by his desire to be one of the best, and he'll eventually get paid like one. Former teammate and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas signed a five-year, $35 million contract that includes $20 million in guarantees with the New England Patriots during the offseason. Suggs is five years younger, and stronger than Thomas. Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney recently agreed to a six-year, $72 million contract - including a $30 million signing bonus - that made him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

Freeney and Suggs have a friendly competition about the number of sacks they record each season. They have the same agent, Gary Wichard. The only difference is that Freeney has consistently beaten the best offensive tackles in the league for the past few seasons.

Suggs is just starting to reach that level.

"The more he plays, the more awareness he has. His technique keeps getting better," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "The kid works hard to improve every day. He hits the field every day with that kind of mentality, so there is no limit to a kid with his kind of ability."

Suggs isn't concerned about Freeney's contract. He isn't worried about his negotiations with the Ravens. In this day and age, it's both surprising and refreshing to find a star player without the ultimate I-guy attitude. Suggs appears sincere. Ask him about his goals for 2007, and they have nothing to do with Terrell Suggs.

"Dwight Freeney's deal caught everybody's attention," Suggs said, laughing. "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.

"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. People only remember championships."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's six observations from the first day of camp at baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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