Terrell Suggs came to Arizona in 1996, playing high school and college football minutes from the Cardinals’ practice facility.
He’s lived here all this time, despite spending the last 16 football seasons in Baltimore as a dominant pass rusher for the Baltimore Ravens. He’d return every offseason, always paying attention to his hometown Cardinals and the path they were on.
So this offseason, as free agency beckoned the linebacker for virtually the first time – he had been franchise-tagged twice by the Ravens – Suggs decided to come back to Arizona full-time.
“(The Ravens) were special and dear to me,” Suggs said Thursday, “but so is the Valley of the Sun.”
After his time with the Ravens, after starring at Arizona State and Chandler Hamilton High School, Suggs became a Cardinal by signing a one-year contract worth a reported $7 million. He said the Ravens made a “handsome” offer for him to stay. The pull to the Cardinals, to be able to play in his hometown before career’s end, was too great.
“We’re expecting some good things,” said Suggs, who will turn 37 during the season. “That’s why we’re here. We didn’t come here to waste time. There’s no time to waste.”
Suggs had seven sacks last season while playing 72 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps, and figures to fit into an outside linebacker rotation with fellow veteran newcomer Brooks Reed across from Chandler Jones. His role is to serve as a mentor in the locker room, helping younger players, he said. The sacks will inevitably be expected to be part of it.
He wasn’t making any predictions about his productivity, playing time or even how much longer he might play – “We’re gonna find out,” he said – but he gushed about the chance to bookend with Jones as pass rushers.
Suggs could’ve been a Cardinal much sooner. He was a potential Cardinals’ draft pick in 2003, when the Cards were picking sixth overall and Suggs was coming off a 24-sack season for the Sun Devils. But the Cards instead traded down in the first round and Suggs was ultimately chosen 10th by the Ravens.
“Go back to the 2003 draft, you think ‘what if,’ ” Suggs said.
Suggs insisted it played out for the best.
“I was a young man,” Suggs said. “I had been kind of catered to and spoiled coming from Hamilton, going to ASU, and it was time to go away from home and become-a-man type of thing. It was necessary. I was disappointed then, but today, it shows it all worked out in the end.”
Suggs totaled 132½ sacks with the Ravens, winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. He has made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team all-pro in 2011 and second-team all-pro in 2008.
He has torn his Achilles twice – once in the offseason before the 2012 season, although Suggs returned to help the Ravens win the Super Bowl. A second torn Achilles happened in the opener of the 2015 season. But Suggs had eight sacks in 2016 and 11 in 2017 before notching the seven last year.
Other than the two years he hurt his Achilles, Suggs has played at least 15 games in each season save for the 13 games he played in 2009 after hurting his knee. He’s played in all 16 games the past two seasons.
There will be a settling-in period. With Jones already wearing his trademark jersey No. 55, Suggs knows he has to change, teasing that he’ll unveil it soon enough. (Suggs did say he would not be wearing No. 48, which was his number at ASU.)
“Change can be scary, but also necessary,” Suggs said.
Suggs said he was still thinking there was an “80 percent” chance he’d remain in Baltimore at the end of the season. But he acknowledged there had been a couple of other times in his career he had thought about trying to get back home. There was nowhere else he’d leave the Ravens for whom to play.
“Arizona always had kind of first dibs,” Suggs said. “That dream has become a reality.”