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Pass rusher returns, 'optimistic' he'll remain after this season

Terrell Suggs

August 19, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Ending a 23-day absence as part of his contract dispute, Terrell Suggs was welcomed back with open arms yesterday.

Now, his teammates are asking only for an open wallet in return.

The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end-linebacker avoided any fines from the team for his holdout, but his teammates will be collecting payment for holding Suggs' spot throughout all of training camp.

Suggs will treat all of the Ravens' defensive linemen and linebackers - 22 hungry players in total - to dinner Thursday at which there will be no spending limit.

"I think they're going to aim for the fences on this one," he said.

Suggs, 25, can afford to foot the bill after signing a franchise tag tender that will pay him $8.5 million this season.

So, how big of a bill can Suggs expect?

"It's going to be pretty big," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, one of nine dinner guests who weigh 290 pounds or more. "I'm a big eater. He could expect a couple hundred bucks from me."

If every one of the invited teammates rack up $200, Suggs' tab would be more than $4,400.

Asked whether he was going to eat two porterhouse steaks, Ngata laughed and said, "More like three."

In the long run, it likely will be either the Ravens or another NFL team that will be paying.

Unless the Ravens use the franchise tag on Suggs again, he will be one of the top free agents in the league next offseason.

Suggs is probably targeting a contract similar to the one given to Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (a six-year, $72 million extension that includes $30 million in guaranteed money). Suggs' agent, Gary Wichard, also represents Freeney.

The Ravens can't negotiate with Suggs during the season because the NFL deadline to reach a new contract with franchise players passed before training camp began.

But Suggs said he is "highly optimistic" he will remain with the Ravens.

"I think they'll eventually get something done," he said. "I can't worry about it now. I haven't lost faith in them. I still think they want me here. That's all I have to go on. When I came back, everybody was happy to see me and they welcomed back with open arms."

Suggs said it was difficult for him to skip training camp, saying he decided only the day before players reported to Westminster. It was his way to protest the franchise tag, which kept him from becoming a free agent.

When the Ravens returned to Owings Mills (and when two-a-day practices ended), Suggs was back with the team, participating in every drill yesterday.

"I think the business side stinks for the fans and just stinks for everybody involved," Suggs said. "It's like a tug of war and everybody is pulling in different directions. But it's over."

Suggs alleviated concerns by reporting to the Ravens in good condition after working with trainers in Arizona. But he isn't in football shape yet.

"You could tell [by] the change of direction and the burst," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "But he was competing and fighting. He'll probably be a little sore tomorrow, but he's in good shape."

Suggs said he doesn't know how long it will take to get into football shape.

"As far as how close I am, I got to see when I get the pads on. I think I'm in pretty good shape," Suggs said. "You can't really tell until you're really out there for the first time. I felt good [and] I didn't get winded today."

The Ravens probably will pace Suggs to get him back up to speed and limit his chances to get injured.

After missing the first two preseason games, Suggs likely will play about 15 snaps against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

"Barring some nick or tweak, he'll definitely be ready [for the regular-season opener,]" Harbaugh said.

Because of his strength and burst, Suggs has become one of the league's most feared pass rushers. Since 2003, he has recorded the sixth-most sacks in the NFL, producing 45 in 80 career games.

But the Ravens missed Suggs outside passing situations, too. He lightens up practices with his easygoing personality.

"He makes practice more fun, [whether] you're laughing with him or laughing at him," Ngata said. "He's just a big kid."

That's why the seriousness of contract negotiations has made him visibly uncomfortable.

"I don't even want to talk about a contract thing again after today," Suggs said. "It's been a long, long offseason. It's over. It's football time. This is what everybody wants to see."

What Ravens fans couldn't bear to see is Suggs in another team's jersey, something that the affable pass rusher doesn't want to happen, either.

"Nah. I couldn't see myself in any other uniform," Suggs said. "You look in the mirror and you see purple and black. I think every other color clashes with me."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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