The relationship that has persisted for over a decade was in danger of coming to an end. However, the more the Ravens and Terrell Suggs pondered their options this offseason, they kept coming back to the same conclusion.
Suggs and the Ravens still needed each other. The Ravens couldn't afford to lose another team leader and defensive standout. Suggs, 31, would have options either way, but none of them appealed to him more than his current situation.
The official compromise came Monday in the form of a four-year, $28.5 million contract extension that gave both sides exactly what they wanted and checked off one of the major items on the Ravens' offseason to-do list. The Ravens gained much-needed salary flexibility while Suggs moved closer to his goal of playing his entire career with the same organization.
"It's just really a great day for me, and I'm truly flattered," said Suggs, seated alongside general manager Ozzie Newsome during a Monday news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center. "I'm honored that I get to be a Raven for life."
There are, of course, no guarantees of that but Suggs' new deal certainly makes the idea of him playing his whole career in purple and black more feasible. The new contract, which extends through 2018, includes an $11 million signing bonus and $16 million in guaranteed money, per a league source.
It also cut Suggs' salary cap figure to $7.8 million, down from the original figure of $12.4 million under his previous six-year, $62.5 million deal, which was set to expire following the 2014 season.
"The No.1 priority for myself, Ozzie and everybody in this building is to win," Suggs said. "How do we win? This is the business side of it where we needed to help bring in guys so we can win. We want to win and we want to win by any means necessary."
Suggs' new deal leaves the Ravens with roughly $16.5 million of salary cap space in their efforts to address their myriad of needs and re-sign a couple of their top unrestricted free agents, a group that includes tight end Dennis Pitta, left tackle Eugene Monroe and middle linebacker Daryl Smith.
Newsome said that the team has had extension talks with several players but before any of that, the Ravens wanted to make sure that they solidified Suggs' standing with the team.
"This gives Terrell the opportunity to continue to play football here in Baltimore [and] hopefully he'll continue to play really good football for us," Newsome said. "Over the past week or so — with the draft and with free agency — I've had the opportunity to go back and just watch some players. A lot of time when we watch players, we like to see how they play against our team. While doing that, I gained a new appreciation for how Terrell affects offenses."
Newsome said that he spoke to Suggs' agent, Joel Segal, just before the Pro Bowl about the team's desire to extend the rush linebacker. The talks picked up steam over the last week with Segal and Ravens senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty agreeing in principal to the deal Sunday. Suggs signed the contract at the team facility Monday morning.
Suggs acknowledged that the contract will take a potential distraction away as he gets into his offseason routine.
"The plan going forward into the offseason is to hit another level," Suggs said. "I want to see if there's another level I can hit. Yes, I came back in phenomenal shape last year, and I plan on coming back in phenomenal shape this year. But people, they see that I'm going into my 12th year, but people also forget I came in [to the NFL] when I was 20. So, most guys that are going into their 12th year, they come in when they're like 23, 25, and they're going on 37, 35. I'm only 31 years old, and when the 2014 season starts, I still will be 31 years old."
One of the Ravens' two first-round picks in the 2003 draft, Suggs is the organization's all-time leader in sacks (94.5) and forced fumbles (29). He is also second in fumble recoveries (12) and tackles (762). He is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
He's coming off a season in which he had 80 tackles and a team-high 10 sacks while playing in all 16 games. However, in his first full season since suffering a partially-torn right Achilles, he faded down the stretch with just one sack over his final eight games.
"The sacks kind of went down, but one thing did happen — we did start winning a lot," Suggs said. "I think if I can just say one thing, it's just to narrow my work back down. Don't try to do so much of everybody else's job. Let the coverage be itself, play the play, trust the play that's being called and just be Sizzle. So, I think I was probably down the stretch trying to do too much. As one game went by, as two games went by, it was just like, 'All right, I need to get a sack, I need to get a sack,' and I stopped letting the game come to me."
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Suggs said that he'll study tape further in the days ahead. However, Monday was clearly not the time for that. Instead, Suggs thanked several members of the organization, including owner Steve Bisciotti, and its fan base. He brought up the number of fans that have written him on Twitter and urged him to return.
"Last year, that's not how this story is supposed to end," said Suggs, referencing the Ravens' first season out of the playoffs since 2007. "We need to go on another special run for our fans and for our city. … The fans really spoke, they really wanted me to stay here, and that's why I'm glad to say that, 'Sizzle is here for life.' I'm a lifer. "
Suggs also took the rare opportunity to reminisce. He remembered entering the league as a 20-year-old, thinking "young, stupid, arrogant" stuff. Eleven years later, he described himself as "humbled and flattered" as he moved closer to following the path of his close friend and mentor, Ray Lewis, who spent his entire career in Baltimore.
"I've learned the value of the word legacy and being on one team and in one uniform your whole career," Suggs said. "You learn more about priorities when you play with a man like that. … I don't want to go anywhere else. This city loves me."
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.