Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs leaves the field after the… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
The line in the sand has to be drawn soon.
For the Ravens to be successful in the offseason, a top priority is getting Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to agree to a contract extension, freeing up some salary cap room to sign other players.
Teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents March 8. Free agency begins at 4 p.m. March 11.
According to an NFL source, the two sides are making progress, and the assumption here is that a new deal is likely.
Suggs has one year remaining on a six-year, $62.5 million contract worth $12.4 million this season. If the Ravens could get him to sign a new, lower deal, it could save the team $5 to $6 million and give them about $17 to $18 million in cap space.
Suggs is the best option among the Ravens' highest paid players because cutting a defensive tackle like Haloti Ngata or running back Ray Rice would cause too much cap acceleration and hurt more than help.
So far, Suggs refuses to comment. He basically went underground along with his game in the second half of last season, and has stayed there except for sightings at Miami Heat games where he wishes he was LeBron James.
But Suggs will eventually redo his deal. It just makes too much sense for both sides. Suggs has spent his entire career in Baltimore and has the same type of freedom that was given to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Despite John Harbaugh's reputation as being a tough, demanding coach, he has always shown an appreciation to veteran players.
Suggs is a smart guy. He has already earned a Super Bowl ring and has the ear of defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Elvis Dumervil is another top pass rusher on the other side, which helps Suggs, even though the two aren't exactly great friends.
Suggs, 31, can also take a look at history, especially in the last three years. Great pass rushers over the age of 30 usually don't command big pay days.
Ozzie Newsome has always had a fondness for Suggs. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. In 11 seasons, he has been named to six AFC Pro Bowl squads.
Everyone is aware that Suggs is on the downside of his career. Football is a brutal sport and it slowly grinds a player down. Then the arm and leg injuries start to appear, which has happened to Suggs the past two seasons.
Regardless if he plays here next season or somewhere else, Suggs will take a pay cut. There is no other way out.
But once the Ravens get the Suggs situation resolved, other things can fall into place. They will have money to sign Eugene Monroe, the team's unrestricted left offensive tackle. Monroe isn't dominating, but graded out well in every game except against Chicago's Julius Peppers.
The Ravens can then continue negotiations with unrestricted free agent tight end Dennis Pitta. Like Rice, Suggs and Ngata, Pitta has earned a big pay day and if they can't do a deal, Newsome will tab him the franchise player. With that designation, Pitta would earn $6.709 million next season.
The freed up money should also allow the Ravens to re-sign some lesser name free agents like inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who led the Ravens in tackles and cornerback Corey Graham, who always seems to play his best at the end of every season.
Right now, returner/specialist Jacoby Jones would be a luxury item, not worth the $4 million he made last season. And what about right offensive tackle Michael Oher? He isn't a priority, and probably seen his last days in Baltimore.
But the feeling here is that the Ravens want to continue to build through the draft and get younger. They can get better by selecting Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round, or guards David Yankey or Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson in the second.
A lot of this hinges on Suggs, and the domino effect. The Ravens know that he isn't what he used to be, but they might be able to squeeze two more years out of him.
They know Suggs is a fun-loving guy who can still dominate games on occasion.
It's hard to imagine they can't find a common ground.