WESTMINSTER, Md. — When Terrell Suggs shed his franchise tag to become the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens expected him to hone his pass-rushing skills at training camp.
Unfortunately, Suggs has been limping to meetings with a strained left Achilles' tendon, an injury that will keep him out of Baltimore's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
"I don't even feel like I'm part of the team," Suggs said Tuesday, shortly after receiving treatment in the training room while the Ravens went through drills. "I hardly ever come out to practice because I don't want to stand around and see all the guys working hard while I'm not able to play."
It's sort of like what happened last January, when Suggs missed an entire week of practice with a shoulder injury as Baltimore prepared for the AFC Championship game. Suggs ended up starting, and contributed two sacks in a 23-14 loss to Pittsburgh.
Suggs, a graduate of Chandler Hamilton High School, has never missed a game since being drafted out of Arizona State in 2003. His durability, in addition to his 53 career sacks, five interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries, explains why the Ravens affixed the franchise tag on him in 2008 and 2009 before rewarding him with a six-year, $63 million contract last month.
The deal included $38 million in guaranteed money, a point that did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
"I heard (wide receiver) Derrick Mason say that I'm not buying dinner now, I'm buying houses," Suggs said.
The Ravens joke about his money, but they wouldn't dare kid him about not being in pads at training camp this week, chasing quarterbacks in the sweltering heat.
"They understand, because they know the player I am. I will play hurt. All my teammates know that," Suggs said. "If I could be playing, I would."
As a franchise player, Suggs missed almost all of training camp in 2008. Not that it mattered — he finished with 102 tackles, led Baltimore with eight sacks, scored two touchdowns on interception returns and earned his third Pro Bowl invitation.
Now he's trying to get back on the field, but the process has been frustrating.
"Every day I want to try to give it a go, but as soon as I start walking on it I start feeling the swelling and the liquid in the heel," Suggs said. "I don't want to rush it back and then get hurt again. I don't want to have a season like that."
And the Ravens have no intention of putting him back on the field until he's ready.
"I know he wants to play. It's not a major injury but it's a nagging injury," coach John Harbaugh said. "He'll be out here soon, and he wants to be."
Suggs anticipates another season of 16 starts, followed by a few more in the playoffs. His streak of playing in 101 consecutive games (including playoffs) is impressive, even in a town where Cal Ripken played in 2,632 straight games for the Orioles.
"Yeah, I'm proud. It shows that I'm dependable," Suggs said. "You can always depend on me to line up and play for my team and my city."
The Ravens never wavered in their desire to sign Suggs, whose importance to the team increased significantly after outside linebacker Bart Scott left during the offseason to sign as a free agent with the New York Jets.
"He is a great player, a tremendous person and an outstanding young leader," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Suggs. "He's a foundation for our defense to stay at the highest level."
Suggs may be the highest-paid linebacker in the history of the league, but in his opinion he's not even the best player on his team at the position. That distinction, he concedes, belongs to 14-year veteran Ray Lewis.
"Let's go ahead and take the gray out: Ray Lewis is probably the greatest player to ever play the game. There is no contract or money that's going to change that," Suggs said. "This is where the market is. Next year, you all aren't even going to remember my contract because some player in the NFL is going to just smash it. Players are not defined by their salary. They're defined by what they do on the football field."
By any measurement, Suggs is one of the game's fiercest pass rushers. He's also solid against the run, and proved last season he could cover on pass plays, too.
"I think Terrell Suggs is equally as good against the run as he is against the pass," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He wouldn't be a Pro Bowl player if he couldn't do both."
Notes: WR Derrick Mason dislocated the middle finger on his right hand during practice Tuesday, but the injury was not serious. ... DB Frank Walker and WR Yamon Figurs got into a fight during the session.