As speculation swirled after the 2013 season about whether Terrell Suggs was nearing the end of his run with the Ravens, the team's top decision-makers felt the rush linebacker, who was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, still had a few more productive years left to give them. They backed up that talk on Monday, signing Suggs to a contract extension that could keep him in Baltimore through 2018.
But now that there is the expectation that Suggs, who will turn 32 during the 2014 season, will "be a Raven for life," what should the Ravens expect to get from him over the life of the contract?
First, let's look at what Suggs, a 2003 first-round draft pick, has given them over the past few seasons.
With 61 total pressures -- 10 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 37 hurries -- Suggs was tied with teammate Elvis Dumervil for fifth among 3-4 outside linebackers last season. He led all 3-4 outside linebackers with 38 stops -- plays that result in "offensive failure," according to Pro Football Focus -- against the run and his 11.3 percent run stop percentage was also the best among that group.
Suggs slumped in the second half of the season, though, recording just one sack over his final eight games. Still, Suggs totaled 29 pressures over his final eight games, including a couple of games with six or more pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He had at least two pressures in every game last season.
"Over the past week or so, with the draft and free agency, I've had the opportunity to go back and just watch some players, and a lot of times when we watch players, we like to see how they play against our team. While doing that, I've gained a new appreciation for how Terrell affects offenses when they come to Baltimore, when we play on the road," general manager Ozzie Newsome said Monday at a press conference announcing the extension. "He affects them in the passing game as well as the running game. It was something that jumped out at me while looking at other players around the league and trying to evaluate them."
You can throw his 2012 season out the window as he played just eight games during the regular season -- and Suggs played all of them with just one good leg and some of them with two good arms. He had just two sacks and eight stops against the run, though his 5.8 percent run stop percentage was still respectable.
His 2013 was more reflective of his previous seasons, when he finally became a consistent player on an annual basis. In 2011, when he was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs had 14 sacks and 57 total pressures and he had 24 stops against the run. In 2010, his numbers were pretty comparable as he had 11 sacks and 68 total pressures and 28 stops against the run.
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Suggs is 31 and entering his 12th season with the Ravens. He can't keep playing at this high of a level for forever. But Suggs said we "can expect some Sizzle next year."
"This is where I wanted to be," he said. "I don't have to worry about where I'm going to be playing football next year in my training, so I can be the best player that I'm accustomed to being for my team."
You can find examples on both ends of the spectrum about how pass rushers perform as they reach the back end of their careers. This season, Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts and John Abraham of the Arizona Cardinals continued to harass quarterbacks while in their thirties. Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings and Osi Umenyiora of the Atlanta Falcons were not as productive as they once were. It works on a case-by-case basis.
But this was a gamble -- a relatively minor one -- that the Ravens had to take. Good luck signing a comparable pass rusher for $16 million guaranteed over four years.
And the Ravens have covered themselves in the event they were wrong about Suggs still having plenty to give. According to my colleague Aaron Wilson, Suggs will carry a salary cap figure below $7 million in each of the four years covered by the extension. Newsome said that the deal is structured so that it won't kill the team should something happen with Suggs.
"Now, whether he plays two years or three years, we have a mechanism to be able to deal with the salary cap that would make it friendly for us and friendly for Terrell," Newsome said.
The Ravens are hoping to get at least 40 sacks from Suggs over the next four years. That might be a little ambitious considering he has averaged 8.6 sacks over his first 11 seasons. But if Suggs comes close to reaching that total, this extension will be well worth it. And if he doesn't, the Ravens still did the right thing by betting on one of their best, longest-tenured players -- especially since it isn't that costly of a gamble.