Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs Needs Big Season to Avoid Being a Cap Casualty in 2014

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COMMENTARY | As valuable of a leader as Terrell Suggs is, it's easy to forget just how forgettable his play was in 2012.

Coming off a torn Achilles, Suggs lacked the explosion to rush the passer effectively, and his stamina was nowhere near where it had been in years past. Suggs can hardly be blamed for his lack of production under the circumstances, but the 11-year veteran needs to prove that despite his advanced age he can recover and produce again this season.

If he doesn't, Suggs is doomed to be a cap casualty.

The main factor working against Suggs is his massive contract. He's set to make $13 million this season and $12.4 million in 2014, according to Spotrac.com. The Ravens would barely save anything toward the cap by releasing Suggs this season, so he is a virtual certainty to make the team regardless of his level of play.

Suggs will still be on notice, though, as releasing him next season would save $7.8 million in salary cap space.

That number of $7.8 million is crucial. Suggs needs to prove he is more valuable than what the Ravens could otherwise do with that money. The Ravens could use it on a host of free agents or even most of a draft class, meaning Suggs has a tough road ahead to prove worthy of that lofty figure.

The only way Suggs can prove worthy of a roster spot next season is to return to the elite pass-rushing form that earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011. An elite pass rusher is without question more valuable than $7.8 million worth of free agents, so Suggs could cement his status in 2014 with a solid year of getting after the passer.

From there, Suggs will still have more to prove. He will turn 31 this season and is entering his 11th season in the league. Pass rushers tend to slow down once they're on the wrong side of 30, but a few workout warriors find a way to continue to contribute.

What Suggs needs to do is prove that he is one of those workout warriors, meticulously maintaining his fitness, explosiveness and strength to be able to keep pace with far younger players. The reason Ray Lewis was competitive for so long was his intense training regimen; Suggs needs to prove he can do the same to be able to finish his career in Baltimore.

Fortunately, all signs have been positive thus far.

Suggs is reportedly in fantastic shape, certainly motivated by the prospect of putting his forgettable 2012 season in the past. That alone should be enough to result in significantly improved player this season.

Further, Suggs remains one of the Ravens' most vocal and powerful emotional leaders. He constantly provides a spark on the field with his intensity and ability to drive his teammates to improve. Suggs plays with a competitive fire that sets the tone for the Ravens' intense defense, something that they would be hard-pressed to replace should Suggs move on at the end of the season.

Despite his solid fitness level and leadership, only actual regular-season production can save Suggs from becoming a cap casualty at the end of the season. He needs to prove that he is still among the elite pass rushers in the NFL to be worthy of his lofty cap figure, something that will begin in camp and needs to last through the very last snap of the season.

Otherwise, the Ravens will be able to find a better use for their money, and Suggs will be elsewhere in 2014.

Shawn Brubaker is a graduate of the Catholic University of America. He has been a Baltimore Ravens featured columnist for Bleacher Report for two years and is currently a co-host of Ravens Central Radio.

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