Before the greatness of the Von Miller’s, J.J. Watt’s, and Khalil Mack’s of the world came to be, there was Terrell Suggs. Before a new golden generation of pass rushers developed, Suggs was already wreaking havoc on the NFL. The 36-year-old is gracefully aging into the twilight of an illustrious career, but his future in Baltimore is uncertain as he remains unsigned. With the open of free agency a few days away, it’s looking increasingly likely one of the most accomplished pass rushers of the 21st century — a man affectionately nicknamed “T-Sizzle” — will test the open market for the first time.
As the Bears load up for a Super Bowl pursuit in the 2019 season, it behooves them to take advantage of Suggs’ openness to a new environment and aggressively nab the prolific veteran outside linebacker.
Keeping close ties
Success in the NFL, like most professions, is defined by the quality of interpersonal working relationships. A team can be oozing talent on paper and fail anyway due to poor leadership at the top. If there’s no cohesion between respective players and coaches the talent often ends up being wasted. Say what you will of the overzealous and often idiotic Michael Scott as a boss in The Office: He ran a better office and had a closer rapport with most of his coworkers than anyone that tried to replace him over the show’s run. His quirky interpersonal ability let him keep the somehow infallible Dunder Mifflin afloat.
It’s the same for NFL coaches and their players: Those coaches who can teach, as well as establish respect and admiration in their players, are those that endure. Ideally you’d want a better individual unit than Dunder Mifflin but the point remains.
One of the best things Matt Nagy’s Bears have going for them is their chemistry, particularly with defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s stellar defense. From top to bottom, the Bears’ defense is not only stacked with special ability in the form of Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson, they also actually like playing with one another: Not a universal case across the league.
Where the Suggs-to-Chicago connection naturally comes in is with Suggs’ deep ties to Pagano. In the one year Pagano featured as an NFL defensive coordinator in Baltimore, Suggs was his Jim Halpert: The most prominent member of a great defense (office). In a 16-year career where Suggs has amassed seven Pro Bowl selections and averaged over eight sacks a season, 2011 forever sticks out as his finest work.
On a Baltimore defense featuring First-Ballot Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Suggs overshadowed one of the greatest linebackers and safeties ever when he received a well-deserved Defensive Player of the Year. His 70 tackles, 23 quarterback hits, 20 tackles for loss and gaudy seven forced fumbles back then paced an aggressive Ravens defense. Those numbers understate how special Suggs was on a merciless, ruthless defense. A No. 1 ranked unit that brings about plenty of callbacks to the modern Bears.
Given his natural talent and propensity for hard work, it’s likely Suggs would’ve reached his career peak regardless of who was his coach. At the peak of his powers, Suggs was always tenacious and savvy. Those kinds of players find a way to succeed regardless of circumstances. That the best piece of his individual career happened with Pagano should resonate with a veteran that’s been around the block more than a few times. Established relationships matter to pending free agents, and Suggs is no different.
For a prime example of how much Pagano meant to Suggs, look no further than the superstar being mockingly adamant as to Pagano’s lacking merits as a leader years ago. Late in the 2011 season, Suggs glowed with endorsements for the 58-year-old coach.
But not before saying he “sucks” as to keep him out of likely head coaching consideration:
“Chuck Pagano, if anybody is trying to hire a head coach, if they ask, I’m going to say he sucks,” Suggs said then. “He’s terrible. He’s a terrible coach. His players don’t love him, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he’s calling a game.”
Suggs knew his efforts were in vain as Pagano would end up being hired by the Colts. His satirical review of Pagano nevertheless sticks out out as a sign of how much Suggs valued his overarching tutelage. (It’s reminiscent of how the Bears acted when Vic Fangio bolted for the Broncos but that’s neither here nor there.) While time can sometimes can change people, it’s doubtful Suggs’ admiration for Pagano has faded entirely if at all. It’s not a small detail as the Bears look to fill out a largely otherwise complete roster.
If anyone can continue to coax out production and a buy-in mentality from an older player potentially switching jerseys like Suggs, it’s Pagano. If anyone can find a seamless role as a situational pass rusher on the NFL’s top defense, it’s Pagano. Pagano has Suggs’ respect, and those connections frequently win out if given an opening.
There are a few standing rules about NFL roster construction. You never have too many offensive linemen. You never have too many cornerbacks. And most importantly, you never have too much pass rushers. Suggs — at a ripe age in his late 30’s — is still one of pro football’s most feared men off the edge and would give the Bears’ desired pass rush depth.
In 2018, despite playing just 71.88 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, Suggs found a way to routinely make an impact with 34 tackles, 15 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for loss, and seven sacks. For comparison’s sake, that’s only three less quarterback hits and three more tackles for loss than Mack last year: Someone who was in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation for a good portion of the fall. It’s also more than Leonard Floyd on every count, hand injury and all.
Suggs isn’t nearly the same wrecking ball he was earlier in his career, but it doesn’t matter. When his numbers still compare well to guys he’s supposedly passed the torch to — guys almost 10 years his junior — it’s clear there’s plenty left in the tank. When he’s transitioning toward more of a situational role on a loaded defense, he doesn’t have to be the same weapon of mass destruction he’s profiled as for most of the past decade.
In Chicago and in the event of any signing, Suggs would assuredly feature as the Bears’ third outside linebacker behind Mack and Floyd. He’d give one of the NFL’s better edge duos a solid swingman to lean on when necessary. Suggs would not only help Mack and Floyd stay on a relative pitch count as necessary through the grind of the season, he’d also put his limited snaps to efficient use. The Bears have an elite pass rush but the one piece they’re missing is a reliable third man on the edge.
There aren’t many better available for a win-now team than Suggs.
Fitting right in
The Bears’ outlook has shifted this off-season. They’re no longer a timid also-ran. They want to confidently throw their weight around. They’re not reductively looking at 16-game campaigns anymore. They should be glowingly and fittingly optimistic, viewing their season with a 19-20 game prism well into January. Championship teams have depth at key positions and the Bears shouldn’t view themselves differently.
To play well into January, two of their most important players in Mack and Floyd have to stay fresh and healthy for five months. To make the championship run they feel confident in, they need someone effective like Suggs to spell their top pass rush pairing. Any concern with fit and Suggs should go by the wayside when you note his Pagano connection. He’s a short-term fit that suits the Bears to a tee. Any worry over a self-assured personality rubbing people the wrong way at Halas Hall is also overblown. If anything, he would slide right in along boisterous Bears like Akiem Hicks and Tarik Cohen.
In terms of contract expense, fit, and overall value, not many fit better in that beautiful picture of quality depth than Suggs. The Bears have the Pagano link and a ready-made defense. If the opportunity presents itself for Chicago, it’s time to unite two eras of pass rushing greatness with Mack and reel in Suggs.
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.