Though the idea that the Ravens could put injured linebacker Terrell Suggs on the non-football injury list and not pay him all of his $4.9 million base salary during the coming season has picked up steam this week, there has been no indication that it’s something the Ravens would consider doing.
As of Wednesday night, I was told that there had been no internal discussion within the Ravens’ front office about trying to get out of part of Suggs’ contract after he tore his Achilles tendon last month during a workout. Could that change? Sure, and the Ravens would have that ability because Suggs’ injury happened outside the team facility and not during a team-supervised workout.
However, below are a few reasons I don’t think the Ravens should nor do I think they will try to withhold some of Suggs’ 2012 salary.
It would send a terrible message to the rest of the team
Go beyond Terrell Suggs’ playful demeanor and, at times, goofy locker room antics and you’ll find a player who is immensely respected by his teammates and coaches. Not only is he the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, but Suggs is also admired for the way he backs up his bold talk by producing on the field. When Ray Lewis was out with the toe injury last season, it was Suggs who rallied the defense. He also has shown a willingness to play hurt, having missed just six games in his nine-year career, all coming in the 2009 season. The Ravens' penalizing Suggs would surely anger several of the team’s key performers and could easily be construed as a message that the organization does not have the back of a player who has meant so much to the franchise.
It would be against everything the Ravens preach
The Ravens’ top decision-makers, like general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, regularly use words or phrases like ‘playing like a Raven’, commitment and accountability. And by all accounts, they’ve helped foster a close-knit and family environment at the team facility. Everybody knows the NFL is a business, but doing anything but honoring their commitment to Suggs would be against the very things that they have been preaching. After all, Suggs has held up his end of the bargain. He vowed after a disappointing 2009 season that such a performance would never happen again. He got into better shape, and the result has been back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, including his award-wining 2011 campaign. He’s clearly shown a commitment to being a better player and a better teammate.
It would potentially mar Suggs’ future with the organization
A torn Achilles is not easy to come back from, and some players who have suffered the injury never regain their speed and explosiveness. So there are no guarantees here, but Suggs is only 29 years old. He still has a lot of career ahead of him. You want him motivated to rehab hard and get back as soon as possible. You want to support him in every possible way so he comes back as strong as ever and picks up where he left off -- as one of the game’s dominant defensive players. You don’t want to give him any reason to have negative thoughts and feelings about the organization as he works toward a return. Even if it’s not this season, the Ravens need a healthy and happy Terrell Suggs to get where they want to go.
There is no sign that Suggs actually did anything wrong
There has been some confusion to what Suggs was doing when he tore his Achilles. He says he was doing conditioning work, while ESPN initially reported that he was playing basketball. It shouldn’t really matter. It would be one thing if his injury resulted from some stupid or illegal form of behavior. If that were the case, I wouldn’t blame the Ravens for going after some of his money. But neither scenario was at play here. Whether it was playing basketball or doing conditioning work, Suggs was preparing for the season, which is exactly what the Ravens expect that he’d be doing. He’s not the first pro athlete to play basketball in the offseason. The pickup games held at Cal Ripken’s Jr.’s house back in the day are still talked about. Several of the Ravens hold charity basketball games in the , and they are well-publicized so, obviously, team officials know what is going on. Torrey Smith’s game featured several Ravens and NFL stars like Ray Rice, Joe Haden and LeSean McCoy. Anquan Boldin hosted a game, and so will LaQuan Williams. Vonta Leach has played in several of them this offseason. Unless the players are specifically told by the Ravens not to play basketball in the offseason -- and that clearly is not the case, judging by how many of them do -- then Suggs can’t be faulted even if he was injured during a pickup game.