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Eisenberg: Only Big Names Volunteer To Clear Cap Space


The vast majority of NFL players have precious little juice in dealing with their employers. Most of their salaries aren't guaranteed beyond the current season. Their team can cut them at any time.

Baseball players have it better, for what it's worth, as many multi-year contracts in that sport are fully guaranteed.

The only NFL players with juice are the stars who sign big, multi-year deals. They take up so much of their team's salary cap space that cutting them becomes untenable. The player and team basically become partners, charting a carefully negotiated course that satisfies both.

Terrell Suggs certainly became the Ravens' partner when he signed a six-year, $62.5 million contract in 2009 – a deal neither side regrets. Suggs has more than earned his keep, but when it became clear his cap number for 2014 was too large for the Ravens' tastes, he agreed to a contract extension that gives the Ravens more cap room in 2014.

That's what partners do. They work together for the greater good.

In return for a new signing bonus and more guaranteed money, Suggs essentially put some of his earnings on a credit card, payable later, to give the Ravens more cap room and a better chance of building a winner now. In a way, it's the ultimate act of leadership in today's NFL. Volunteer to clear cap space? Only the biggest of the big names can do it.

"It was like, 'You might have to do something just so that we can create cap space and bring in more players for us to help us win.' At the end of the day, that's the most important thing, is us winning," Suggs said.

Not all of the big names are willing to do it. You only hear about Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Suggs, the ones who work things out. Plenty of others don't. They want their money now, all of it.

They're certainly entitled. They signed a deal. If they aren't feeling the partnership, so be it.

The Ravens are hoping Suggs' leadership and influence rubs off. General Manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed Monday that he has entered extension talks with other players, likely those at the top of the team's salary chart, starting with Haloti Ngata. Lardarius Webb, Ray Rice and Marshal Yanda also are due big paydays in 2014 and beyond. Joe Flacco's big cap numbers kick in soon.

For the Ravens to keep finding extra room to maneuver under the cap, they're going to need to keep working out deals with their partners who play on Sunday.

Watching the news conference announcing Suggs' contract extension, it was hard not to reflect on how far Suggs has come.

He was all of 20, admittedly "young, stupid and arrogant," he said Monday, when the Ravens drafted him in 2003. He has made his share of mistakes, on and off the field, and still likes to play the goof, have a good time.

But make no mistake, he gets it. Playing on mostly winning teams in Baltimore for more than a decade, he has learned the right priorities.

"The No. 1 priority for myself, Ozzie and everybody in this building is to win," Suggs said. "How do we win? This is the business side of it where we needed to help bring in guys so we can win. We want to win, and we want to win by any means necessary."

That wasn't just a for-the-podium response. Whenever he is asked during the season about individual goals or needs, Suggs faithfully responds with a short sermon about winning trumping all other concerns.

Newsome extended the Ravens' deal with Suggs primarily because Suggs' 2014 cap number was so big. But they also believe he still has several years of solid football left.

It's a good risk-reward bet.

Although Suggs has played for the team for 11 years, he's only 31, hardly a geezer. Yes, he has dealt with injuries the past two years and his sack total has declined, but he remains a solid pass rusher and dependable edge-setter against the run, a major physical presence.

If you're expecting him to reprise his 2011 "Defensive Player of the Year" performance, you're probably expecting too much. But he can still start, still produce, still play all three downs. Bringing him back gives the Ravens one less hole to fill.

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