The Baltimore Ravens were dealt a significant blow when Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon back in late April. Initially, the veteran linebacker told ESPN that he was injured while practicing the conditioning test the team administers to its players at the beginning of training camp.
However, a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter on Wednesday morning seemed to confirm rumors that initially surfaced after Suggs went public with the injury—that he had in fact injured himself while playing in a basketball tournament.
Asked for his reaction later in the day on Wednesday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told the Carroll County Times:
It's not relevant to anything that has to do with what we're trying to accomplish. If it were, I guess we would think about it. The relevant conversation as far as Terrell Suggs is going to be rehab.
He's going to be back here next week. He's got a doctor's appointment on Monday if I'm not mistaken. He's going to go to work get that thing back and knowing Terrell he'll be back sooner rather than later.
Harbaugh is one hundred percent correct here—from a football standpoint.
It is indeed completely irrelevant how Suggs hurt himself. The fact of the matter is that the Ravens have to figure out where they are going to find the production they will lose during Suggs' absence and worry about his rehab.
However, from a contractual standpoint, the Ravens can move to protect themselves by placing Suggs on the non-football injury list, which would enable them to withhold part of his salary. This isn't an automatic mechanism—the team has a choice how it wants to go about this and could just as easily place Suggs on the NFL list and still pay him everything his contract says he is owed.
This is a tricky situation for the Ravens, and ESPN's Andrew Brandt put it into perfect perspective a few weeks ago:
As with every decision involving a respected player, the team must weigh the relationship with the player, agent and locker room against the value of the money saved. If the team does withhold salary, it would be wise to use it on other players to maintain credibility. Also, in these situations the teams are dealing with (an) experienced agent—Joel Segal—with whom they will need to maintain positive relationships for future player dealings.
You can understand why Suggs is telling anyone and everyone that he hurt himself preparing for a team administered test—it casts him in a much more positive light.
Not that there should be anything wrong whatsoever about players playing basketball in the offseason. I've read some alarmist columns from folks stating that players should be forbidden from doing so in the offseason (some teams try to work that very provision into contracts), but I tend to think that's completely overblown.
I agree wholeheartedly with my friend Ian Rapoport who wrote on his blog over at NFL.com:
So what if he injured his Achilles playing basketball? Who cares whether it popped because he was breaking down a defender off the bounce (hip hoops term alert!) or if he was doing a three-cone drill on a field? Is it actually worse to injure yourself playing basketball on a court than under the auspices of a trainer on a field? Are you actually more at risk?
What's encouraging is that the Ravens don't seem to be actively looking to reduce Suggs' salary. They seem, as Harbaugh's interview today suggests, much more concerned about making sure his rehab is on schedule and hoping against hope that they can have him back on the field in the 2012 season.
Still. there are some teams that continue to fight against players playing basketball in the offseason. And then there are others, like the Green Bay Packers, that have a basketball court inside Lambeau Field and encourage their guys to play. Not only that, the Packers have a regular offseason charity basketball game that several players participate in annually. The Cowboys and a few others teams do as well.
More teams should have this attitude—it would spare us the ridiculous song and dance we're being treated to about how Suggs hurt himself.