Whether you believe Terrell Suggs’ claim that he partially tore his Achilles tendon while training in Arizona or just can’t shake the lingering whispers that he suffered the injury playing basketball, one thing is certain.
The Ravens are under no obligation to pay the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year his scheduled $4.9 million base salary in 2012 because the injury took place away from the team’s Owings Mills facility.
In a vacuum, the logical move would be to place Suggs on the non-football injury list, which would remove him from the 53-man roster for the first six weeks of the regular season while he tries to recover in time for the second half of the season. However, unlike the physically unable to perform list, this designation would allow the organization to withhold the portion of his salary covered by the games missed or the entire $4.9 million should Suggs be unable to return during the season.
It would clear salary cap room to create more flexibility in tweaking the roster or potentially acquiring another pass-rush specialist such as the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora in the unlikely scenario that a deal could be struck.
But the short-term cap relief would have far-reaching consequences for general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens in the real world of the NFL. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s the wise action to take.
Though not held in the same light as future Hall of Fame defensive players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Suggs has etched his name into the legacy of the defense in nearly a decade of exceptional play. The 29-year-old has been a highly-regarded member of the organization who never squawked after twice being designated the team’s franchise player before signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract in July 2009.
An attempt to withhold his base salary might do irreparable damage to the two sides’ relationship with two years remaining on Suggs’ contract following the 2012 season. While it remains to be seen whether Suggs is able to regain his previous form as one of the most feared defensive players in the league, such an act could be viewed as a slap in the face to a player whose motivation occasionally came into question early in his career. And it probably wouldn’t create the proper mindset for a man attempting to come back from a severe injury at an accelerated rate.
The reach of this decision stretches beyond the injured Suggs, impacting the current locker room and even future Ravens not yet with the franchise. One of the reasons why the Ravens have been so successful over the years is their player-friendly reputation, attracting talented players who want to buy into the organization and continue its winning ways. To go after Suggs’ wallet would be a clear message to players that the organization will do the same thing to them should they land in a similar position one day.
The Ravens have a certain way of doing things and stripping Suggs of his base salary — even if it’s within their rights — doesn’t conform with the philosophies implemented by owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and head coach John Harbaugh. As displeased as they might be with the circumstances that led to Suggs’ injury, it’s simply not a battle worth fighting with a valued member of their family they hope will continue to contribute in years to come.
Which leads to the dirty little secret regarding Suggs and the circumstances that led to the Achilles injury.
The new collective bargaining agreement prohibits teams from opening their training facilities until the middle of April, a stipulation the union wanted in order to provide more time off for its players. However, teams clearly expect players to begin training for the new season long before that time and any player not doing so is asking to eventually lose his job to someone else.
But doing so puts them at risk of losing money should they sustain an injury from any activity — such as lifting weights or running — occurring away from the team’s facility. Taking money from a player — even if the circumstances are questionable but not egregious — sets a dangerous precedent that might cause others to question their commitment and how hard they work away from Owings Mills if it’s going to put them at financial risk.
And that would jeopardize the top priority of the organization.
The organization prides itself on the winning environment it’s created over the last 17 years. Suggs buys into that atmosphere as much as anyone — even if you think he may have used questionable judgment prior to the injury.
The Ravens may still elect to handle the matter privately with Suggs as WNST.net’s Drew Forrester reported at the time of the injury that the linebacker has a clause in his contract that subjects him to a $250,000 fine for participating in any unapproved physical activities. And that’s perfectly within their rights if that’s the route they choose to take.
But publicly taking a hardline stance with one of the best players in franchise history sends the wrong message to not only Suggs but to every other player in the organization. It draws a line in the sand saying our family atmosphere and winning culture aren’t as authentic as we made them out to be.
Such an action would damage their reputation as one of the most player-friendly organizations in the NFL.
And that’s worth far more to them than the $4.9 million — or some portion of it — potentially saved in 2012.