In signing Terrell Suggs to one of the most lucrative contracts - six years, $63 million - in NFL history Wednesday, the Ravens contend that it is more of an investment in the future than a reward for his first six seasons with the team.
Suggs' $38 million in guaranteed money exceeds the totals for Jared Allen ($31 million) and Dwight Freeney ($30 million), two pass rushers who have NFL sacks titles (something Suggs has yet to accomplish).
So, did the Ravens overpay Suggs?
"Just because you sign one of these mega deals, I think he understands it doesn't mean that you've arrived as a player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And a lot of what we've done in signing 'Sizzle' to this, is we're anticipating the player he's going to be over the course of the next six years."
Making him the highest-paid linebacker in the league was probably the only way the Ravens could have locked up Suggs before Wednesday, the NFL deadline for teams to sign their franchise players to a new deal.
Suggs, 26, would have been among the top five free agents next offseason and would likely have received similar offers from other teams.
An emerging playmaker, Suggs went to his third Pro Bowl after leading the Ravens with eight sacks and returning two interceptions for touchdowns. He has recorded 53 career sacks, which is second most in team history and ranks eighth in the NFL since 2003.
Suggs is also durable, never missing a game in his six-year career. In his 101st straight game (the longest current streak on the team), he sacked the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger twice in the AFC championship game despite playing with a shoulder injury.
That's why the Ravens were willing to give him a $10.1 million signing bonus and a $23 million option bonus due in March. He is scheduled to make $40 million over the first two years of the deal.
"I'm just looking forward to showing them that they didn't make a mistake and that you've got the right guy," Suggs said. "I'm only 26 years of age, and my best years are ahead of me. I can only get smarter as my years of experience pile up."
The Ravens and Suggs have been negotiating a long-term deal since February 2008, the first time the team used the franchise tag on Suggs. The team put the tag on Suggs again this year.
The sides made significant progress 2 1/2 weeks ago, when the Ravens increased the guaranteed money in their offer, a league source said. An agreement was reached about midnight Wednesday in a three-way call with Suggs, his agent and general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"This is a good day for the Ravens' franchise," Newsome said.
If no deal had been struck Wednesday, the sides would have had to wait until after the season to sign a deal and Suggs would have earned $10.2 million this year under the tag.
Throughout the past few weeks, Suggs had publicly expressed optimism that the deal would get done.
"I wasn't sure this deal was going to get done even though I kept saying it was close," he said. "I thought the chances were about 50-50, and I definitely didn't want to get franchised again.
He added: "I am glad it is over, and now we can get back to football. Getting this done took compromises on both ends. I wanted to stay in purple and black, the Ravens wanted to keep me in purple and black, and they stepped up and showed me that. This means a lot to me and my family. Now I can be a Raven for the better part of my career."
It was only a year ago when there was a little acrimony when the Ravens used the tag on Suggs.
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.
Last season, Suggs led the Ravens in sacks for the third time in his career and finished third on the team with a career-best 102 tackles.
"I was already excited to start training camp, and now having Terrell there makes it that much better," Harbaugh said. "He's a foundation for our defense to stay at the highest level. Having him in training camp will take him to higher levels."
The Ravens have a history of locking up their first-round picks who live up to expectations. They have given sizable deals to Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Chris McAlister, Todd Heap and Ed Reed over the years.
That's why Suggs said he could never envision leaving the Ravens.
"Some people just fit the Raven identity, and I'm convinced that I'm one of them," Suggs said. "Some people, when they retire - like Dick Butkus and Walter Payton, they'll always be Bears. Tom Brady will always be a Patriot. Ray Lewis, he'll always be a Raven. I think this has given me the opportunity to solidify that I will always be a Raven."
With the Ravens paying Terrell Suggs $33 million in bonuses and options, and $38 million guaranteed, he becomes the team's highest-paid player. Here are some other contracts of note around the NFL:
Player, team, guarantee, year signed
* QB Peyton Manning, Colts, $34.5 million, 2004
* DE Dwight Freeney, Colts, $30 million, 2007
* OT Jake Long, Dolphins, $30 million, 2008
* DE Chris Long, Rams, $29 million, 2008
* CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders, $28.5 million, 2009
Suggs by the numbers
Length of contract
Pro Bowl appearances
Sacks last season
Interceptions returned for TDs last season