Terrell Suggs And The Value Question

March 01, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

With Free Agent Spending Seemingly Out Of Control, Might Trading Terrell Suggs Before He Reaches Free Agency Be The Ravens Best Option?


The NFL’s version of the World Series of Poker is now into it’s third day, and getting more interesting by the second. The high stakes staring match that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing each NFL off-season, has to be of interest to Ravens fans, simply because their stake in the game is much higher this time, than in years past.


The “game” of free agency is always an interesting one, because unlike in poker, it’s not always easy to tell who the winners are once everyone gets up from the table. Over at the big table, for example, Albert Haynesworth has already cashed in, and can easily be considered a winner. His counterpart, Daniel Snyder though, got up feeling like a winner too, time will tell whether or not he’s right. It’s also, not exactly clear who else was even sitting at that table, if anyone. And those who walked away without winning Haynesworth’s services may not have actually lost at all. Again, time will tell.


As for the Ravens, not only have they already played out a number of hands, but they still have significant money spread around the floor as well. Wisely, they took Terrell Suggs off the table before the games began, but have already lost a significant portion of their buy in. Losing the services of Jason Brown and Bart Scott will hurt, but keeping money in their pile seemed to be a bigger priority for the club. Still though, the Ravens money pile isn’t looking so hot either.


The Ravens, it seems, can’t afford any seats at the big tables, and by now, most of the big tables have been closed already anyway. They still have a significant stake on the table in the Ray Lewis game, and so far appear to have played their cards masterfully there. Nonetheless, they’ll pretty much have to play that hand out, before deciding how much they are able to play with at the smaller tables.


And even though the team decided not to play any hands at the big table this year, they still have to be concerned with the action that took place there. Everyone has a stake in what happens at the big table. That’s because not only will everyone have to play there eventually, and because the ante there only goes up, never down. It’s also because the ante at the big tables will also be used to determine the price of poker at every other table.


The Ravens, in tagging Suggs, paid big money not to have to sit at the big tables again this year. The Raiders paid ridiculous money to not have to sit there with Nnamdi Asomugha for the next few years. And Ray Lewis, it seems, took a seat at the big tables, but couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play with him at those stakes.


Suggs’ seat at the big tables though, for next year, is all but guaranteed. By failing to sign him to a long-term deal before Asomugha and Haynesworth negotiated their deals, the Ravens probably lost significant bargaining power in the negotiation with T-Sizzle. And as other teams start to look around their own rosters and proactively start wrapping up their own stars to long-term deals, that number could grow even higher.


Certainly the Ray Lewis situation has to be priority number one at this point. But regardless of how that situation plays out, the Ravens may have priced themselves out of the ballgame with Suggs, by waiting too long to get the deal done.


First of all, it’s not just conceivable, but likely that if the Ravens had signed Suggs to a long term deal prior to the start of free agency, rather than tagging him, then he’d have a salary cap number for this year, lower than the $10.1 million or so that he’ll receive under the tag. Doing that would have given them quite a bit more resources going into free agency. What’s done is done though, and where they go from here is what’s most important.


Signing Suggs to a long-term deal still seems to be the best option for the team, and I suspect that as details come out about the structures of these other contracts, the numbers may be a bit more bearable. It’s been reported, for example, that Haynesworth’s deal is essentially a 4-year deal worth $41 million. A huge 2013 roster bonus is the reason for the gaudy $100 million figure, and that bonus will likely never be paid. Still, at $10.1 million per season, Suggs’ cap number is already heavy. If the number goes far beyond that, deciding what to do with him could be tough.


The trade rumors surrounding Suggs have been there before. The fans have most famously entertained the idea of Suggs for Anquan Boldin a number of times, whether or not the front office has ever given much thought to it is another matter altogether though. How much Suggs will ultimately cost is another mystery as well. Because of his hybrid position, even determining Suggs’ franchise number was difficult last year, what he could get on the open market is anyone’s guess. And given what Haynesworth just got, Suggs may be willing to take his chances.


At $10.17 million, Suggs can hardly say he’s underpaid, and will likely sport the highest salary cap number of any linebacker next season. Furthermore, franchising him for a third time would cost the Ravens over $16.5 million next season, that’d make it all but assured that Suggs would get the chance to try his hand on the open market if they don’t get a deal done this season. The fact that Haynesworth was able to negotiate such big money as defensive tackle, and the $16 million plus that Julius Peppers will command under the cap may have the younger and more versatile Suggs content to take that chance.


Replacing Suggs would be difficult to say the least, and the fact that the other 2/3 of the linebacking corps may already be out the door, would seem to make that more and more unlikely. But at potentially $12 million or more per season, against the salary cap, Suggs may have outgrown his price tag on a team that has proven themselves adept at finding and developing versatile and athletic linebackers. And at this point, with a relative bargain of a price, the market for dealing Suggs may never be better.


Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have proven themselves masterful time and again in the draft, and although never big players in the free agent market, the team has typically done well for themselves there too. The Ravens approach to free agency has usually been to take advantage of the salary cap casualties once the bulk of free agency has played out. This season in particular, the Ravens got big dividends from players like Jim Leonhard, Lorenzo Neal, Willie Anderson and even Frank Walker, all afterthoughts on the free agent market. Some of the cuts likely to come as a result of the big contracts being signed this week, could wind up playing to the Ravens benefit once the dust has settled in free agency.


The question that the Ravens have been trying to answer with regards to Scott, Brown and Lewis this off-season, will be even more difficult where Suggs is concerned. Would the amount of money, that the market has dictated that they’re worth, be better spent by the team in other places? When we’re talking about the kind of money that Suggs will command, you’d think that you could fill a number of holes if you evaluated talent well, and the Ravens certainly do that.


And at this point, trading Suggs would likely get you a handsome return too. On the other hand, if the current collective bargaining agreement is allowed to expire and the salary cap goes away, the whole perspective of things will change again. In baseball, we as fans can get mad at our teams for not spending money, because there’s no real spending limit. In football though, with a salary cap involved, fans have grown much more concerned with value. If that goes away the strategy shifts again.


With the cap situation unresolved, playing your hand too early could be dangerous. You could speculate that some teams are operating this off-season as if they already think that the cap is going. If it does go away, I’d like to keep everyone. But if not, then it’s important to spend wisely. And if not, then other teams, less prepared for the cap’s return, might be forced to re-shift their strategies and expose more of their players to free agency in order to stay compliant. We all know how much that could work to the Ravens’ favor.


What will the smart money do? I suppose only time will tell. But if history is any indicator, the smart money is on the Ravens.