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Ravens, Suggs could play tag

The Baltimore Sun

While the Ravens ended any mystery surrounding the franchise tag - general manager Ozzie Newsome said yesterday they plan to use it to keep Terrell Suggs off the free-agent market - some uncertainty remains.

If the Ravens and Suggs can't strike a new deal by tomorrow, how will Suggs, a Pro Bowl linebacker, take being tagged for a second straight season?

Suggs, who has talked about his desire to stay with the Ravens (even suggesting a hometown discount), recently said he wants a long-term deal, not the franchise tag.

"If they don't see me in their future long term, do not draw me out when I'm 26," Suggs told TRA Sports 910 in Phoenix on Friday during NBA All-Star festivities. "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."

The Ravens would keep Suggs from becoming a free agent by tendering him a one-year contract worth $10.2 million (which is 120 percent of his franchise tag last season).

The tag also would buy the Ravens some time. The last time the Ravens used the franchise tag on one player for a second straight season, it resulted in a long-term contract.

In 2004, eight months after being tagged again, Chris McAlister signed a seven-year deal that made him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks at the time.

"I think you have to look at it as an opportunity for us to get to a long-term deal," Newsome said. "That's how [Suggs] and I are approaching it this year."

Suggs' agent, Gary Wichard, did not return phone calls yesterday, and efforts to reach Suggs also were unsuccessful.

The Ravens could have decided to use the tag on linebacker Ray Lewis or center Jason Brown. But the Ravens chose Suggs because they envision him as the young foundation of their defense, along with safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

"Those are three young players that we can continue to build our defense around," Newsome said. "You have someone who can defend the pass, and that's what Ed can do. You want someone who can stop the run, and Haloti can do that. You need someone who can rush the passer, and that's what Suggs can do."

There was little acrimony when the Ravens used the tag on Suggs last season.

The sides even settled on a new designation for the tag, "a hybrid defensive end-linebacker," before reaching arbitration. It allowed Suggs to get paid more than a franchise linebacker but less than a defensive end.

He then attended some meetings during offseason workouts and reported back to play in the final two preseason games, which gave him enough time to get ready for the regular-season opener.

Suggs went to his third Pro Bowl last season after leading the Ravens with eight sacks. He finished third on the team with a career-best 102 tackles.

"He's a very productive player and a young player," Newsome said. "We still think he can still get better as he continues to understand our system."

Three clubs have designated franchise players: New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs and Cincinnati Bengals kicker Shayne Graham.

Notes: : Newsome also announced the Ravens reached new deals with backup defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Brandon McKinney. Edwards, a former second-round pick, signed a one-year deal worth $1 million. McKinney, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent, signed a three-year contract (terms undisclosed). ... A day after cutting McAlister, Newsome said he doesn't "anticipate" releasing another veteran before the start of free agency (Feb. 27). ... The Ravens are looking to sign some restricted free agents to long-term deals. Newsome acknowledged punter Sam Koch is a candidate for a new contract.

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