Three things to consider regarding Terrell Suggs’ free agency

The Baltimore Ravens are well into the off-season at this point and with the Super Bowl approaching Sunday, I started thinking a good deal about Terrell Suggs and the likelihood of him returning to Baltimore for another season in the purple and black.

Suggs has made his intentions clear on whether or not he would consider retirement or not this off-season by saying, “I don’t feel the itch. Ain’t no hair standing up on the back of my neck right there.”

Suggs doubled down after the AFC Wild Card season ending loss to the Chargers saying, “I’m healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. I would love to be a Raven for life. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between here and March. So, we’re just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I’ll be lining up for somebody next year.”

The thought of T-Sizzle lining up for someone else gives me nausea. Then I stumbled across this nightmare scenario on twitter:

Curse You Adam. You should be suspended from Twitter for even planting the seed that Suggs could be lining up for Lord Belichick.

There are a ton of things that go into the decision on whether or not to bring Suggs back as he hits free agency. Here are three things that I am considering.

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Suggs was selected with the 10th overall pick out of Arizona State in 2003. Image Credit: Morris Trophy

1) Tradition/Our Guy Factor

Suggs’ accolades in Baltimore are endless. It started for Suggs in 2003 when he took home AP Defensive Rookie of the year honors in his first year out of Arizona State by notching 12 sacks and five forced fumbles. He is a seven time Pro Bowler. He was the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the year award winner.  He was also named first team All-Pro in that historic 2011 season where he piled up 14 sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

He is the Ravens all time sack leader and ranks tied for 13th in NFL history with 132.5 career sacks.  That mark puts him second among active players trailing only Julius Peppers who has 159.5 career sacks. He has played all 247 of his career games as a Raven and has always been considered one of the more popular players in Baltimore.

Trying to picture a Ravens defense that doesn’t feature Suggs, Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed doesn’t feel right. Those three players were the cornerstones for a dominant era of defensive football in Baltimore that yielded incredible success including the 2012 Super Bowl season and several other deep playoff runs. After that Super Bowl run, Lewis retired and Reed should’ve before he opted to play a meaningless year in 2013.

That left Sizzle as the last man standing from the old guard. Suggs picked up a Pro-Bowl season in 2013 by registering 10 sacks. He waited until 2017 before earning another Pro-Bowl nod after picking up 11 sacks. He has also worn a Bane Mask and a Gladiator helmet as he has become the star of Ravens pre-game intros.

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Terrell Suggs has worn the Bane mask several times in an effort to get the crowd going. Image Credit: Sportswire

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Image Credit: USA Today

Despite all of Suggs’ career accomplishments and cherished antics, the Ravens will have a tough decision on their hands in deciding what their future with Suggs will look like.

On one hand he is one of the leaders of the defense and a staple of Baltimore football for the last 16 years. On the other hand Suggs is turning 37-years-old in October and is coming off a season in which he tallied just seven sacks. That was his lowest total in a season where made 13+ starts since 2009 when he finished with 4.5 sacks. Suggs also picked up just 1.5 sacks from week seven onward, a possible sign of fatigue from an aging player.

The Ravens need to be careful this off-season because any deal they look to strike with Suggs is indicative of the player that he is right now and not the player who has earned a Ring of Honor spot throughout his career.

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It will be Eric DeCosta deciding the fate of Terrell Suggs as he takes over for Ozzie Newsome. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

2) What is the market value of a 36-year-old pass-rushing linebacker?

The Ravens have often lived by the mantra “right player right price” throughout Ozzie Newsome’s tenure as the GM. This has been pivotal throughout the history of the Ravens as they have consistently let talented defensive players leave in free agency only to be proven right when they flop in their new homes. Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, Dannell Ellerbe, and Jamie Sharper are just a few that come to mind that were out of Baltimore because of this line of thought.

But as we all know Newsome isn’t the GM in Baltimore anymore. Eric DeCosta, long rumored to be the GM in waiting for the Ravens, officially took over the GM role on January 11. Whether or not DeCosta will follow suit on the “right player right price” mantra remains to be seen. Tune in to his press conference Wednesday to learn more on that.

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Julius Peppers contracts in recent years with the Panthers should be a good starting place for the Ravens in talks with Suggs. Image Credit: AP

With that being said, what is the value of Suggs at this point? In 2017, the aforementioned Peppers (37 at the time) earned a one year $3.5 million contract with the Panthers that included $1.65 million guaranteed coming off of a 7.5 sack season with the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He performed well in 2017 picking up 11 sacks and was rewarded with a another one year deal worth $5 million and $2.5 million guaranteed. Peppers had five sacks during the 2018 season.

You’d have to imagine that any deal for Suggs would need to be similar to either of the most recent Peppers deals. Especially when you consider the “our guy factor” that likely played a part in the Peppers negotiations as well.

Suggs earned $4 million last season so the Ravens would be right in the ballpark to offer him a similar contract this off-season. The issue would come if Suggs wanted another multiyear deal and he felt he could fetch that additional year or more money elsewhere (please not New England). He could also be trying to find a situation that best positions him for another Super Bowl run.

He’s ending up in New England isn’t he…….

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With other defensive talents potentially on the way out, the Ravens may want to keep Suggs. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Other Free Agency Question Marks

Suggs isn’t the only leader or pass rusher on the Ravens top ranked defense that is in danger of not returning for the 2019 season.

C.J. Mosley and the Ravens are already locked in contract talks. The 26-year-old four time Pro-Bowler will be looking for a new deal this off-season that will rank him among one of the top paid players at his position. If that deal isn’t offered in Baltimore, it is likely that Mosley would be able to find it rather quickly on the open market.

Mosley, while a liability in pass coverage, is pivotal to what the Ravens do in the running game and has a knack for making big plays in big moments. Mosley also wears the green dot at times for the defense, meaning that he is in communication with the defensive coordinator to relay plays as well pre-snap adjustments and other things. If I had to guess, Mosley will be back in the purple and black next season.

Fellow green dot leader Eric Weddle is also currently in limbo regarding his return to the Ravens. The 34-year-old safety has one season left on his current contract and is due to make $6.5 million. He also accounts for $8.25 million against the cap overall. Weddle appeared to lose quite a few steps this season.

He had said after the end of this season that his plan would be to play out the final year of his contract in Baltimore or he would ride off into the sunset but switched course this a week ago saying “We’ll see” in regards to whether or not he would play next season if the Ravens choose to move from Weddle. I’d guess the Ravens will look to cut Weddle this off-season for the salary cap relief.

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Za’Darius Smith’s situation could play a role in whether or not Suggs is back in Baltimore as well. Image Credit: Baltimore Beatdown

As far as the pass rush is concerned, Za’Darius Smith hits free agency for the first time in his young career as well.  Smith is coming off of a career year where he notched 8.5 sacks and figures to rewarded handsomely in free agency.

If Mosley and Weddle go, it could make Suggs a higher priority to sign this off-season. Moving on from your three defensive leaders one year removed from boasting the best unit in football wouldn’t be ideal. That situation could open the door for other players to step up into that leadership role like Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Williams among others.

If Smith walks as well, the pass rush would consist of Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams. Bowser and Williams have been relatively non-existent in their first two seasons in Baltimore tallying a total of 5.5 sacks in a combined 46 games.

The last link to the great Ravens defenses of old could be out the door this off-season. And while his on-field production has decreased, Suggs could prove to be a difficult piece to replace.

Image Credit: USA Today

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Ravens head to the offseason with more questions than answers

The Baltimore Ravens saw their 2018 season come to an end Sunday in the Wild Card round with a 23-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.

The final score was not indicative of how close the game was as the Chargers dominated the Ravens throughout the game. The Ravens defense kept the game within striking distance as the offense put together arguably the worst performance in NFL playoff history through three and half quarters.

Two garbage time touchdowns from Lamar Jackson to Michael Crabtree made the game close and the Ravens actually had the ball back with a minute to go and a chance to drive down the field and inexplicably win the game. Jackson fumbled on the final possession and the Ravens hit the offseason.

For the first time in 11 years, the offseason begins in Baltimore without Joe Flacco figuring to be a part of the quarterback equation. Flacco is expected to be cut or traded this offseason as the Ravens have officially handed the keys to the offense over to Jackson. Flacco was a class act one again in the locker room following what was likely his final game dressed in a Ravens uniform:

We know Joe won’t be here, but who will? There are more questions than answers as the Ravens hit their first offseason with Eric DeCosta calling the shots as Ozzie Newsome steps down as the team’s general manager.

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John Harbaugh wants to be back in Baltimore. But will he be? Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is John Harbaugh the head coach?

The Ravens came out and announced that Harbaugh would be back as the head coach for the 2019 season prior to their contest with the Chargers in Week 16. They also said that both parties are working towards a contract extension to keep Harbaugh in Baltimore.

Harbaugh proceeded to lead the Ravens to a 22-10 win in that game before defeating the Cleveland Browns 26-24 in Week 17 to win the AFC North Division crown for the first time since 2012.

So Harbaugh is slated to be back right? Not so fast. Many pundits have stated that while the possibility for a contract extension in Baltimore does exist, it is also possible that could be done to help in facilitating a trade of Harbaugh to a team in need of a new head coach. Harbaugh has one year left on his current deal and that can’t be too reassuring if you are a suitor for Harbaugh’s services.

If the Ravens choose to part ways with Harbaugh, they need to request a king’s ransom. He has been to the playoffs in seven of his 11 seasons in Baltimore. He has often over-achieved with rosters that severely lack difference-making talent.

He took a 4-5 team that lost their starting quarterback at the bye week to a 6-1 record down the stretch and an AFC North crown. Whatever hot shot coaching candidate you might want, ask yourself what would happen if he had a 4-5 record at the bye and had to change starting quarterbacks. Collapse would be imminent.

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Mike Tomlin has been unable to keep the peace in Pittsburgh while the Ravens have had no public locker room discontent. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Ravens hadn’t been to the playoffs in three years prior to 2018 and many of this year’s players were a part of those teams. There was no in-fighting. No locker room discontent. Look at what is going on in Pittsburgh who had been to the playoffs four straight years. Their tight end is calling them the Kardashians of the NFL.

Look at the coaches that have been signed this offseason . Kliff Kingsbury to the Cardinals bringing his 35-40 record at Texas Tech with him. Matt LaFleur is on his way to Green Bay after taking the Titans offense to the 25th ranking this past year. Adam Gase is getting a shot with the Jets after going 23-25 at the helm of the Dolphins.

Give me Harbaugh and all that comes with him for as long as he wants to be here.

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The Ravens will need Lamar Jackson to put in a ton of work this offseason to make necessary improvements. Image Credit: Getty Images

2) Can the Ravens develop a sustainable offense and who develops it?

The offense that got the Ravens to the playoffs isn’t sustainable. If you’re not convinced of that after Sunday’s offensive nightmare, then I can’t help you.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for Sunday’s performance but the most obvious scapegoat has been the much maligned Marty Mornhinweg:

There’s 1000’s of these but you get the point.

Were people bashing Marty when the team was 6-1 down the stretch and absolutely torching opposing defenses with the NFL’S best run game? Of course not, they were handing that credit to the almighty Greg Roman. But nowhere this week did we see people giving Roman hell for the run game getting shut down on Sunday. Many believe he is the catalyst behind this offense but when it fails everyone goes right to Marty.

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Many folks are waiting for Marty Mornhinweg to be fired this offseason. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Let’s look at what Marty has to work with on offense shall we? His left tackle Ronnie Stanley is average at best. Whoever they play at left guard stinks. Matt Skura at center is awful. Marshal Yanda is excellent. Orlando Brown Jr. looks like a solid get at right tackle.

His wide receivers stink. His tight end is a rookie who had a massive year and looks like he could become quite a factor moving forward. His running backs are an undrafted guy and another one that everyone wanted to cut heading into the season.

And here’s the kicker. The best thing you can say about his quarterback is that he is great at running the ball. Here’s a few breakdowns from people much smarter than I am to illustrate how frustrating this is:

There’s also 1000’s of these.

Jackson has a ton of work to do. His weaknesses are glaring. He has terrible footwork. He is wildly inaccurate whether it be from in the pocket or on the run. He struggles to hit any route with consistency outside the numbers. He is a turnover machine.

He’s a rookie. He can improve. He is an exceptional athlete and arguably the fastest player in the NFL. He needs to get significantly better for the Ravens to find their way back to the playoffs. The blueprint to shut him down is out and whoever is in charge of the Ravens offense next season has their work cut out for them to get this unit heading in the right direction.

But it’s not just Jackson that needs to improve. The Ravens need to make an effort to surround him with players that can help him succeed. The Ravens should be looking at offense all throughout the draft. Stanley and Brown Jr are likely your bookend tackles, but Stanley’s contract expires after next season. Tackle could be a need but not the biggest along the offensive line. Skura is a guard playing center and looks like it. Yanda isn’t going to play forever. James Hurst is a nice backup and the Ravens don’t have much to be excited about otherwise.

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The Ravens brain trust needs to get some weapons to help rookie QB Lamar Jackson. Image credit: SI

The Ravens also sorely need a wide receiver. What year is it? The same issue that has plagued this team throughout their existence here in Baltimore. The Ravens have drafted just one receiver in the first three rounds of the draft since 2013. Only Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs are impact players drafted outside of the first three rounds since 2013. You want to find an impact receiver, you better draft one early.

In their franchise history the Ravens have drafted just seven wideouts in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. In comparison the Steelers who are actually good at drafting receivers have taken 15 of them since the Ravens joined the NFL. The seven receivers the Ravens have drafted: Patrick Johnson (1998 Round 2), Travis Taylor (2000 Round 1), Devard Darling (2004 Round 3), Mark Clayton (2005 Round 1), Yamon Figurs (2007 Round 3), Torrey Smith (2011 Round 2), and Breshad Perriman (2015 Round 1). Yikes.

Lot of swings and misses in there. That doesn’t mean you stop swinging. Get a wide receiver early in this year’s draft. Get two of them I don’t care. Willie Snead can come back as Jackson seems to like him. If Michael Crabtree wants to be here and the Ravens want him fine. John Brown is gone. Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, and JaLeel Scott figure to be in the mix. That’s not good enough. Get him an early-round wide receiver, something you almost never did for Flacco.

The free agent crop features Adam Humprhies, Golden Tate, Robby Anderson, Cole Beasley, and Tyrell Williams. For the love of God please draft a wide receiver. Another retread scrub that wasn’t wanted by his prior employer isn’t going to help.

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The Ravens defense was dominant this season, but an offseason of change could be looming. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

3) What does the defense look like?

Don “Wink” Martindale and his number one-ranked defense were the steadying force behind the Ravens 6-1 run to the AFC North crown. With a revitalized rushing attack giving them a bit more rest than they had been afforded the first nine weeks of the year, the defense stepped up throughout the run with key play after key play.

In the eight games with Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens gave up 18 points per contest, slightly above their season allowance of 17.9 points-per-game. But the real difference came in the way of turnovers. The Ravens generated 11 turnovers in the last eight games of the year after generating just six through the first nine weeks.

The defense also chipped in three scores in that time frame as well. The defense made game-clinching plays in contests against the Browns the last week of the year and the Bengals in Jackson’s first start in week 11.

For the Ravens to remain competitive with an offensive roster full of question marks, the defense will need to duplicate their performance from this season and once again be near the top of the league. The issue there is that this unit has a plethora of question marks in their own right.

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We may have seen the last of Terrell Suggs as a Baltimore Raven. Image Credit: USA Today

Terrell Suggs is a free agent. A team leader and staple of the Ravens defense, Suggs picked up seven sacks on the year, his lowest total 2009 given 13+ games played. He is 36-years-old and a fan favorite, but it will be interesting to see what his value is to the Ravens as well as what his value is on the open market. Suggs has made his wishes known:

Suggs said after the loss on Sunday “I will be lining up for somebody next year.”

Suggs isn’t the only pass rusher hitting the free agent market as Za’Darius Smith will be looking for a pay day after a career year. Smith picked up 8.5 sacks on the year, nearly doubling the 4.5 total sacks he recorded int he last two seasons combined. Pass rushers are typically a hot commodity come free agency and Smith’s figured to be handsomely rewarded this offseason.

C.J. Mosley is arguably the team’s most important soon-to-be free agent. The four-time Pro-Bowler has spent each of his five NFL seasons in Baltimore and has done a fantastic job in the center of the Ravens defense. Mosley is great against the run but often struggles in pass coverage.

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C.J. Mosley is in line for a big day this offseason but will it be in Baltimore? Image Credit: USA Today

There are a lot of folks out there that believe that Mosley could command a deal similar to the five-year $62 million contract that Luke Kuechly received in 2015. This would put the Ravens in a tough spot as they are hoping to get out of some “salary cap hell” this offseason by cutting some veterans on “bad contracts.”  This would simply replace a bad contract with potentially another one.

Brent Urban is the other unrestricted free agent from Baltimore’s starting defense.  While he doesn’t generate the headlines of the other two key free agents, he is a player that plays a pivotal role inside for the Ravens, helping out Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce.

In the Restricted Free Agent (RFA) realm, the Ravens have two more defensive starters in Patrick Onwuasor and Pierce as notables. Restricted free agents normally receive “tenders” tied to draft pick compensation. These tenders allow the Ravens the right to match any deal that the RFA reaches with another team. If they choose not to match, the Ravens will receive a draft pick given which tender was assigned to the player. If no team signs the RFA to a contract, the Ravens would pay the allotted salary given the tender assigned.

2019 Projected RFA Tenders

Type Amount
First Round $4,429,000
Second Round $3,110,000
Original Round $2,035,000

 

Then comes “cap casualties.” For those who don’t know, if the Ravens have a player that has an undesirable salary cap hit for next season, the team could choose to cut the player to save money against the cap. There is dead money tied into these types of transactions. Dead money is defined as the amount of guaranteed money remaining on a cut player’s contract that will count against your salary cap that next season. Dead money is undesirable.

There are also different designations regarding cap casualties. Cutting a player prior to June 1 means that their dead money will all hit your salary cap the next year. Cutting them post June 1 spreads out the dead money against the next two season’s salary caps. For more on this check out this explanation.

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Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle could be cap casualties for the Ravens. Image Credit: Getty Images

The Ravens have quite a few players that fit the bill here on both sides of the ball. But as we continue focusing on defense here, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle are all candidates for this. The chart below spells that out from Ravens Salary cap Guru Brian McFarland.

The Ravens would not be likely to sign up for the dead money associated with cutting Tony Jefferson and/or Williams so I would assume that they will be back.

So in total, the Ravens have Williams, Matthew Judon, Marlon Humphrey, and Jefferson as near certainties to be back on defense. The other seven starters’ status is currently unsettled. And that is unsettling.

The Ravens need to be smart about which defensive players they choose to put their money into. Bad deals on both sides of the ball have put the Ravens in the salary cap predicament that they have been in the last few seasons. Some relief is finally in sight. Will the Ravens take it? Or will they be in the same place three years from now with a new group of ugly contracts?

The answers await this offseason.

Image Credit: Russell Street Report

Podcast Episode 33: Where do the Ravens go from here? 105.7 The Fan’s Ken Weinman weighs in

Welcome to Episode 33 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Following the Ravens 23-17 Wild Card loss to the Chargers, Jake, Nolan, and Ian dive right into what went wrong for Baltimore (4:51). After the guys are done reacting to the game, they discuss who’s trending going into the offseason as well as what the Ravens need to do over the spring/summer to return to the playoffs next season (27:22).

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest, 105.7 The Fan host Ken Weinman (54:16). We’ll get Ken’s thoughts on where the Ravens stand after their playoff exit, the NFL Divisional round, and the Orioles hiring of Koby Perez, who will head the club’s international scouting department.

Following Jake’s interview with Ken, Nolan and Ian hop back on to reveal their picks for this weekend’s divisional playoff games (1:12:08). The crew also spends a few minutes talking Terps hoops (1:24:49) following Maryland’s two wins over Nebraska and Rutgers from last week.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 33 (1:29:09).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thanks for listening!

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun