Eisenberg: Terrell Suggs Should Return Next Year Because ... Why Not?


They've occupied the same roles since 2003, Terrell Suggs as an outside linebacker for the Ravens, Marvin Lewis as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach.

Now, with their teams set to meet again Sunday for what surely seems to them like the thousandth time, there is speculation about how much longer these lions of the AFC North will keep going.

Suggs, who turned 35 in October, told ESPN last month that he was trying to reconcile the idea that external forces such as his age and salary could bring an end to his long tenure in Baltimore before he wants.

"I'm preparing myself for it, just in case. What will be, will be," Suggs said.

Meanwhile, national news outlets have reported for several weeks that Lewis, 59, is getting ready to leave the sideline, perhaps for a job in the Bengals' front office.

It would be quite a coincidence if, after all these years, Sunday's game was the final regular-season contest for both in their current roles. But I don't think the story is going to work out that neatly.

My guess is Suggs will be back with the Ravens in 2018 because, well, why wouldn't he?

Yes, his salary-cap hit is fairly high, but not THAT high, especially considering he leads the Ravens in sacks by a wide margin this year and just earned his seventh Pro Bowl invitation. In other words, whatever he's paid, he's worth it.

It might make sense for the Ravens to at least contemplate a move with Suggs if their young pass rushers had demonstrated this season that they were ready to replace him. That kind of evolution, i.e., getting younger and cheaper, commonly drives transactions known in the industry as salary cap cuts.

But other than Matthew Judon, who has registered seven sacks, and Za'Darius Smith, who has contributed several big plays lately, the team's NextGen outside linebackers are still percolating.

The Ravens need Suggs, in other words, and honestly, ANY team would take him, despite his age and cap hit, based off his performance in 2017. A locker room leader and three-down defender, he has exhibited virtually no signs of slowing down. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh recently said Suggs is playing some of his best football in years.

If Suggs wants to keep playing – and his steadfast enthusiasm for the job suggests that he does – he'll almost surely be back.

The greater possibility, it seems, is that Lewis' long run as the Bengals head coach will end after Sunday's game. For the record, he has continually sidestepped the issue, so anything is possible. Earlier this week, several of the Bengals' veteran leaders supported the idea of his return. But his contract is up, and in a midweek conference call with the Baltimore media, he commented that he has been "stuck in this division a long time." That sounded ominous.

If, in fact, this is his final game as the Bengals head coach, the location is appropriate. It was Lewis' brilliant performance as the Ravens defensive coordinator that turned him into a potential head coach. Someone almost surely was going to give him a shot after his Ray Lewis-led defense carried the Ravens to a Super Bowl triumph in January 2001.

That he wound up in the same division was, in a way, unfortunate, because his Ravens roots run deep. He and Suggs are close with many of the same franchise stalwarts, starting with Lewis. But years of knocking heads in the AFC North has wiped away some of the warm feelings Baltimore might feel for him, and vice versa.

In the end, though, Lewis is generating the ultimate measure of respect from his former team and its fans. Anyone who dismisses his Cincinnati tenure as a failure because he went 0-7 in the playoffs is missing the big picture. The Bengals were a mess when he took over. He re-made them into a physical, talented, dangerous team, formidable enough to dominate the Ravens for long stretches.

Heading into Sunday, Lewis has a 17-12 record against Baltimore as the Bengals head coach. That ultimate measure of respect I referenced above? If he's really leaving, the Ravens will be glad to see him go.

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