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After 16 seasons with Ravens, Terrell Suggs reportedly expected to sign with Cardinals

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a swaggering staple of the team’s defense for 16 years, is expected to sign a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, according to media reports.

Deals cannot be finalized until 4 p.m. Wednesday, but teams were allowed to contact free agents beginning Monday. Suggs, the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks (132 ½) and games played (229), is a pending free agent for the first time in his career.

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The 36-year-old’s departure would mark the second significant loss for the Ravens’ top-ranked defense in the past week. Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was cut Wednesday and signed with the Los Angeles Rams on Friday. In coming days, the unit could be further warped.

Four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley appears likely to become the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, a deal that could outstrip the Ravens’ limits. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith should receive multiyear contract offers worth over $9 million annually, and team officials have expressed pessimism about their chances of retaining him. Defensive end Brent Urban figures to attract several suitors.

Even as free agency approached for both this offseason, Suggs represented the kind of “Raven for life” status that fans hoped Mosley would fulfill, deeply ingrained in Baltimore’s football fabric with legends like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

The No. 10 overall selection in the 2003 draft, Suggs has started at least once in every season with the Ravens and appeared in at least 13 games in all but two. With seven years of double-digit sacks, including a career-high 14 during his NFL Defensive Player of the Year season in 2011, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has made a credible case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Baltimore.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, only two players have more sacks with a single franchise than Suggs does. Both have busts in Canton, Ohio: Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills) and Michael Strahan (New York Giants).

Last season, Suggs eclipsed Lewis’ games-played record in Week 17, but by then his season had soured. After a Pro Bowl appearance in 2017 and a disruptive start last fall, he seemed to fade down the stretch of the Ravens’ march to the playoffs, even with regular days off at practice. In the team's first seven games, he had 5½ sacks; in their next 10, including the postseason, just 1½. He finished the year with just three solo tackles in their final three games.

Still, there were no signs that Suggs desired an exit, even amid a season of change that unseated longtime starting quarterback Joe Flacco and general manager Ozzie Newsome. He said after the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that he “would love to be a Raven for life. I’m healthy. I feel like I’ve still got some juice in the tank.”

The interest appeared mutual. General manager Eric DeCosta said at the recent NFL scouting combine that Suggs, who led all Ravens outside linebackers in defensive snaps last season, “is definitely a guy that we want back. … He’s a guy that means a lot to our franchise, I think, as a player but also as a leader.”

The terms of Suggs’ reported deal with Arizona aren’t known, but the pull of home has long been strong. He was raised in Minnesota but moved to Arizona after the eighth grade, and still has a home in Scottsdale. In college, he went on to star at Arizona State, where he set NCAA records for sacks in a career and season.

“I just thought: I live in Chandler; Tempe is 10 minutes away from here,” Suggs recalled of his high-profile college recruitment in an interview with The Arizona Republic last year. “Why would I leave?”

In Arizona, Suggs would join first-year coordinator Vance Joseph’s 3-4 defense, which already features 2017 sack king Chandler Jones and could add top draft prospect Joey Bosa with the No. 1 overall pick.

In Baltimore, Suggs would leave behind a pass-rush group thin on experience and production. If Smith heads elsewhere in free agency, the Ravens would return an outside linebacker corps of Matthew Judon, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser. Judon had seven sacks in 2018 and is entering the final year of his contract; Williams and Bowser, both recent Day Two draft picks, combined for 2½ and saw little regular action on defense.

Suggs’ symbolic absence would loom larger, especially if he arrives in Cardinals colors for Arizona’s game in Baltimore next season. With Flacco’s pending trade to the Denver Broncos, Suggs, guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Jimmy Smith, long snapper Morgan Cox, punter Sam Koch, kicker Justin Tucker and linebacker-defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. are the only Ravens remaining from their Super Bowl XLVII team.

As the 2018 team made its own playoff push, coach John Harbaugh was asked what he expected from Suggs.

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“I expect him to be Terrell Suggs, and that’s a lot of fun to watch,” he said before the Ravens’ loss to the Chargers. “It really is. Like I’ve said before, his leadership goes unmatched in our room and for our team. I can’t wait to see him play.”

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