Complete recap of the Terrell Suggs/John Harbaugh Press Conference

July 15, 2009 | Luke Jones

Terrell Suggs downplayed the importance of signing one of the richest contracts in NFL history, but there was no mistaking how seriously the Ravens wanted to keep the Pro Bowl linebacker in Baltimore.

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline, Suggs and the Ravens agreed to a six-year, $63 million contract Wednesday morning, eliminating the possibility of Suggs playing under the franchise tag for a second straight season.  The 26-year-old linebacker is relieved to continue his career in Baltimore.

I consider myself a player of the fans,” Suggs said.  “I play for them.  I love the cheers that I get when I’m running out of the tunnel, and I’m just glad that we finally got back to football, and that they wanted me [in Baltimore] and I wanted to be there.  Ozzie [Newsome] and everybody, we all wanted the same thing, and we just had to agree on the little stuff.  Both sides compromised a lot, and now we came to an agreement”

The deal includes $33.1 million in bonus money, second only to Peyton Manning’s bonus from a deal signed in 2004.  Suggs now becomes the highest-paid linebacker in the history of the NFL, though he was quick to downplay the significance of that moniker.

That was never a focal point,” he said. “That was never brought up once in the negotiation.  I never wanted to be the highest-paid anything. I’m not that guy.  I don’t care what the next man is getting.  I just wanted it to be fair. This is a business, and everything is structured and branded a certain way.”

Suggs will now report to camp on time after missing nearly the entire preseason last year after being designated the franchise player. The Ravens will now have all four starting linebackers present for the start of training camp in less than two weeks.

Coupled with the loss of Bart Scott to the New York Jets, the absence of Suggs may have slowed the transition from Rex Ryan’s scheme to new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, though the system is expected to undergo only minor changes.

Suggs has been in contact with Mattison during the offseason to keep up with the mental side of the defense.

“We’re looking forward to seeing all four linebackers out there together now for the first time in any offseason program since we’ve been here,” Harbaugh said.  “There’s nothing like getting those guys out there together and practicing together and competing together.  Plus, the other thing I’m excited about is his personality being out there from early on in training camp.  He’s a guy that perks up the whole practice field, so it will be fun to have him out there.”

Suggs is happy to be reporting to training camp on time, but he downplayed the significance of missing training camp, citing his play last season that earned him a trip to his third Pro Bowl.

His 53 career sacks are the second-highest total in Ravens history, behind only Peter Boulware’s 70.

“The only thing about training camp is it brings you back closer with your teammates,” Suggs said.  “You all get close again; you all become a team.  You all go in there and run.  Last year I missed that, and it didn’t hurt me too bad—I don’t think—but it’s going to be good to finally get back in training camp in the hot summer days with all the fans looking.  It’s going to be interesting.”

Suggs’ new contract trumps the record-setting deal signed by his teammate and mentor Ray Lewis in 2002.  Lewis’ deal included a $19 million signing bonus.  Suggs emphasized his vast respect for Lewis and insisted the 34-year-old is still the heart and soul of the defense.

“Ray [Lewis] is hands down a Hall of Famer, and you know he’s probably the greatest ever to play the position,” Suggs said.  “Like I said, that [record bonus] happened merely on accident. I’m not sure if I’m a Hall of Famer yet, but I’m sure going to play to try to achieve that status. But until then, Ray is arguably the greatest linebacker ever to play the game.”

- Mason update

The news of Derrick Mason’s retirement was a popular topic during Wednesday’s conference call.

Harbaugh is currently on vacation but has informally communicated through text messages with the veteran wide receiver.  He plans to talk at greater length with Mason next week.

“It’ll be interesting to see where he’s at with everything,” Harbaugh said.  “I know he’s gone through a lot in the last couple weeks with [Steve McNair's death] and those kinds of things. But I’m looking forward to talking to him.”

Suggs expressed hope that Mason would come back this season but respected the possibility that he’s done with football.

“At 35 years old you really start to put things into perspective,” Suggs said.  “Either way [he decides], I love ‘Mase.’ He’s a great teammate.  You can’t say that about a lot of guys.  He’s not selfish, not even in the least, and he’ll always look out for you.  A guy like that is always great to have in the locker room.”

Mason is well respected among teammates and team officials for his professionalism and work ethic since coming to Baltimore in 2005.  His absence would leave Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams as the team’s current starting receivers.

“Derrick Mason is the kind of guy that if he is going to be on board, he’s going to be on board 100-percent-plus,” Harbaugh said.  “He’s going to be doing all the things that great players do, because you don’t become a great player—and I think one of the premiere receivers in the game by far—without being committed to excellence.”

If Mason decides to go through with his retirement, the options on the free agent market are limited, though Harbaugh said the team would explore other options in addition to the players currently on the roster.

“You can only do so much,” Harbaugh said.  “There are only so many guys out there available, and a lot of what we do is developing the players that we have.  We think we have good players here, too.”

*****

Here is the transcript from the live blog I wrote during the conference call:

2:31 – The conference call for Terrell Suggs and John Harbaugh has now concluded. Check back later for a full recap including more direct quotes from Suggs and Harbaugh.

2:28 – Harbaugh is very excited to get going at training camp and thinks the Ravens have a great football team ready to go this season.

2:27 – Harbaugh says the Ravens will look to improve the wide receiver situation, but he’s confident with the group of players they currently have. He mentioned there’s only so much you can do at this point.

He downplayed the reports of Mason practicing at the facility on Monday before the retirement announcement came. He reiterated how dedicated Mason has been throughout his time with the Ravens.

“If he is going to be on board, he is going to be on board 100 percent plus…Getting mentally ready is part of that…If he decides to come back, he will be completely ready to go.”

2:24 – Regarding Derrick Mason, Harbaugh has had informal communication with Mason and plans to meet with him sometime next week.  He says Mason’s obviously had a lot on his mind in regards to the death of Steve McNair.

2:22 – Harbaugh says Suggs wants to work on football and understands the importance of being with Mattison and his teammates for the entire duration of training camp.

The coach is excited about the type of player that Suggs will be over the next six years. He thinks Mattison will help Suggs take his play to “another level.” Harbaugh also mentioned how Suggs is an underrated run-stopper.

2:21 – Harbaugh cited how great of a guy Suggs is. His dedication and attention to detail is right there with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He’s a great player.

2:20 – John Harbaugh is now joining the conference call.

Talking about the success of keeping new players:
“It goes back to Ozzie [Newsome], and of course, Steve [Bisciotti] and Dick [Cass]. It’s just a tremendous organization. Players want to be here.”

He also discussed how many players who have been disappointed to leave because of the financial side of the game.

“You can’t just sign them all. When you draft the way Ozzie drafts, you’re going to lose some guys over time…You can sign one guy, but maybe the next guy you can’t sign.”

2:18 – Suggs has finished up, and we now await John Harbaugh to join us to talk about the new contract for his star linebacker.

2:17 – When asked about the details that needed to be worked out in order to reach an agreement, he didn’t really want to get into specifics. He’s just relieved to have it finished.

He talked about the young Ravens fans that might ask why he wasn’t practicing at training camp. Now, that’s not an issue.

2:16 – Suggs is downplaying the importance of being at training camp from the very beginning, citing his strong play last season.

He’s relieved to finally have the contract resolved after two years. The business side of football is difficult.

2:14 – In regards to Derrick Mason, Suggs was very complimentary and was “shocked” at his retirement. He would love to play with him for another year, but he understands with Mason being 35-years old.

He isn’t sure whether Mason will decide to return. He respects the fact that Mason may not have the passion to play anymore.

2:12 – I asked Suggs on his thoughts about being the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history and playing with Ray Lewis:

“Ray is hands down a Hall of Famer, and he’s probably the greatest to ever play the position. The fact that I’m the highest paid linebacker is really by accident.”

2:10 – Suggs credits the Ravens for going the extra mile to get a long-term deal done, considering the salary cap.

He says his role won’t change. He’ll lead on the field, as always.

On the contract:
“I’m going to continue to be the dominant player I’ve always been…I’m looking forward to showing them that they didn’t make a mistake, and they got the right guy.”

2:08 – Suggs is talking about the process last year and the dispute over whether he was a defensive end or a linebacker. He considered himself a defensive end and had bulked up because of that.

Suggs admitted to having his doubts about reaching a long-term deal.

“We were all on the phone all-day yesterday…It was little minor things here and there. Would we really let something minor stop me from signing a long-term deal?”

2:06 – Talking about Bart Scott: “It was going to be hard to bring all three [linebackers] back.”

Suggs believes Scott would have stayed if the money had been there and believes he’s lucky to be in New York with Rex Ryan. He considers it a win-win situation for Scott.

2:05 – Suggs says being the highest-paid defensive player was never a focal point. He just wanted it to be “fair.” The reason the numbers were so high is because of him being consider a hybrid defensive end-linebacker.

He considers being the second-highest paid (in terms of bonus money) as just a coincidence. He felt it was what he had earned.

2:02 – Suggs: “I’m always trying to do better. I’m just happy it got done…I consider myself a player for the fans. I play for them. I’m just glad that we finally got back to football.”

“Both sides compromised a lot. We came to a great agreement. Now, we can get back to football.”

1:55 – We’re just a few minutes away from hearing from Terrell Suggs. John Harbaugh will answer questions right after the star linebacker.

1:45 – Having lost Bart Scott to the New York Jets, Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have to feel good knowing they’ll have their entire starting linebacking unit present at the beginning of training camp in Westminster.

Suggs’ presence will certainly ease the transition from Rex Ryan to Mattison and allow the Ravens to get an authentic look at how Tavares Gooden—or Jameel McClain—fits into the entire defensive scheme during the preseason.

1:26 – Ozzie Newsome will not be present for the press conference, but he offered his thoughts earlier on reaching a long-term agreement with the Ravens linebacker.

“Getting a deal done with Terrell is consistent with our history of retaining our best Pro Bowl players, like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden, Todd Heap, and Jamal Lewis. Securing Terrell for six seasons gives us a premier pass-rusher whose ability to stop the run does not get enough credit.

“This is a good day for the Ravens franchise.”

1:18 – You’ve heard the news by now that Terrell Suggs has signed a six-year, $63 million contract, avoiding playing under the franchise tag for a second straight season.

The deal includes $33.1 million in bonuses, making it the second-highest amount in NFL history—behind only Peyton Manning. The long-term deal now places Suggs as the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.

We’ll hear from Terrell Suggs in about 40 minutes with coach John Harbaugh to follow.

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