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Glenn Clark: Defining Terrell Suggs' Legacy As Complicated Is Simplistic … But True

March 14, 2019
It's been a weird week in the Baltimore sports community.

You know, the type of week where the two longest-tenured athletes in the city depart and yet we hardly get a chance to talk about them. 

The truth is that we've been saying goodbye to Adam Jones for months. All that changed this week was that we learned which uniform he'd wear this season. We've made it clear just how grateful we are for what he's done on and off the field.

Terrell Suggs' departure was far more sudden and unexpected. While we knew it was possible, the majority of us still believed the Ravens would ultimately let the likely future Hall of Famer set his market before they chose to match it. 

Considering how well he performed a year ago and that only Matthew Judon returns as an established pass rusher behind him, Suggs is probably the most significant loss for the team. While C.J. Mosley might be a better overall player at this point, there is reasonable hope that the inside linebacker duo of Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young can perform admirably at a less significant position. 

Suggs' departure to the Arizona Cardinals probably warranted more dominance of the local sporting conversation than it received this week. There's good reason why it didn't -- the Le'Veon Bell chatter and Earl Thomas-Mark Ingram reaction quickly drowned out the topic. Suggs is a top-five player in franchise history with a complicated legacy. His presence was overshadowed for the majority of his career by three other Hall of Famers who were among the greatest players in the history of their position. 

He certainly managed to get his fair share of attention despite that shadow, mostly for positive reasons because of his entertaining demeanor. Be it his willingness to wear popular but vulgar T-shirts to stoke the flames of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry or the never-ending sound bites he would offer during weekly media gatherings, the man had a way to captivate an audience. There were no shortage of times when one of the team's PR representatives would roll their eyes or bury their head while listening to Suggs talk, but even they seemed to know that Suggs' words were largely harmless and regularly played well locally; they matched the irreverent mentality of the fan base. 

In addressing Suggs' legacy in Baltimore, that constant entertainment is combined with his overwhelming ability as a football player. Just two players -- Bruce Smith (171 with the Buffalo Bills) and Michael Strahan (141.5 with the New York Giants) -- have recorded more than Suggs' 132.5 sacks with one franchise. But the most underappreciated part of Suggs' on-field tenure in Charm City is his evolution from strictly a third-down pass rusher in the beginning of his career to one of the most complete linebackers in the game as his career went on. 

Suggs became not only a quality run stopper but even a capable asset in pass coverage when necessary. That development and overall capability represents why Suggs is more deserving of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer than even some of the other players with more career sacks than Suggs (at least at the moment) who will become eligible for Hall of Fame in the coming years like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and John Abraham. 

Sharing a defense for so long with two icons in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed -- but no offense to Frank Walker, who JUST missed the cut -- has likely meant that few football fans outside of the city are even aware of how significant Suggs was to so many good Ravens teams. 

Suggs' 2011 campaign was brilliant, and in fairness, led to his only Defensive Player of the Year honor. His dramatic return to the field in 2012 was overshadowed by Lewis' own return from injury. Suggs was underwhelming during the Ravens' title campaign but still managed to put together a massive two-sack performance against Peyton Manning as the Ravens went on the road to upset the Denver Broncos in the playoffs. 

The issue in discussing Suggs' legacy is that it doesn't end with the football conversation. 

Oddly, for an athlete who was equally prominent and long-tenured in our city, Suggs was also ... not particularly visible. This isn't to say he didn't offer anything charitable to Baltimore. Suggs held events in the past to benefit the William E. Proudford Sickle Cell Fund, among other charities. He made other appearances at teammate's charity events. But he never seemed to leave a significant footprint here. Arizona was home (understandably so), and Suggs' lifestyle seemed to match the club scene in D.C. better than the blue-collar atmosphere in Baltimore. 

Let me be clear. There has never been anything wrong about Suggs' pursuit of success in Hollywood or interest in going home to a warm climate after the season. That alone doesn't make him a bad person. It's just a juxtaposition that exists when comparing his legacy to that of the Ravens' other Hall of Famers. 

But there's also the other thing. 

It has long been difficult to determine just exactly how to measure the various allegations levied against Suggs by his ex-wife Candace Williams. The lack of not only a conviction but even a criminal charge at all has made it easier for the majority of fans and media members alike to not dwell on their presence while discussing the seven-time Pro Bowler. It's a "plausible deniability" thing. There are no definitive rules for how to handle these conversations. The allegations exist. They've always been uncomfortable and difficult to altogether dismiss. Suggs has, of course, denied the many allegations. So what do we do now?  

Describing Suggs' legacy in Baltimore as "complicated" feels too simplistic and trite. Yet I'm not sure I have something better to offer. I think we're all appreciative of what we've been able to see on the field. Yet I think we'd all prefer to have the conversation end there and, frankly, we just can't. 

He's been a damn good football player. In a vacuum, our city can forever be appreciative of that. But as far as defining how his legacy is concerned? Even I'm not capable of doing that. 

Follow Glenn on Twitter @GlennClarkRadio

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox