Ndamukong Suh’s last two years at Nebraska were full of destruction. He was a monster in the middle of the Cornhuskers defensive line that could crush quarterbacks and ruin running games. In 2008 & 2009 he totalled 36.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks. In 2009 he finished fourth in the Heisman voting and in the Big 12 championship game he racked up a truly ridiculous 4.5 sacks against an undefeated Texas side.
It was to no one’s surprise that arguments were made for him to go #1 when he entered the NFL draft in 2010. The Rams needed a quarterback and took Sam Bradford, but Suh went #2 to Detroit and continued his path of destruction into the NFL.
Since then he has been to five Pro Bowls, been named 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and been voted a first team All-Pro three times by the Associated Press. In short, he has been nothing but brilliant on the football field for the past decade.
But that isn’t the only thing football is about in the NFL. It is also about money. Suh was in the final draft class not to fall under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which meant that his salary negotiations with the Detroit Lions were wide open. He agreed to a massive five-year, $68 million deal with the Lions, but the price of the deal crippled the Lions ability to build a team, and despite Suh’s brilliance they allowed him to walk when it was done.
As a free agent in 2015, Suh signed an even bigger contract with the Miami Dolphins, agreeing a six-year, $114 million deal that included $60 million guaranteed.
That deal was set to see Suh count $26 million against the salary cap in 2018, the third-highest mark in the NFL. It was simply too much, and so to save a monstrous $17 million on the 2018 cap the Dolphins are, reportedly, ready to release the defensive tackle.
Hitting free agency is often good for a player’s bank balance, but Suh now has two teams in his rearview mirror that have paid him the big bucks, struggled to compete, and come to regret it. So if he really is free to sign wherever he wants for 2018, what kind of contract should he ink? And where?
The “aim for a ring” deal
There are several veterans who have chased a Super Bowl ring late in their careers. DeMarcus Ware, Tony Gonzalez, and Randy Moss are all-time greats who went to new teams in the hope of winning the big one. It worked for Ware, but didn’t for Gonzalez and Moss.
As far as Suh is concerned, there are a number of teams who could offer him something in the region of $9 million a year and the chance to make the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl. New England need players in the front seven that can rush the passer and affect the run. The Atlanta Falcons tried Dontari Poe last year and would be more than happy to give Suh a home on a contending team.
Suh is used to bringing down some $14-18 million a year, so dropping his price tag by 50% is perhaps very unappealing, but at the same time struggling to a middling record every year is hardly an enticing dream in the late stages of your career either.
The “pay me” deal
There are more than a few teams with the kind of cap space that could pay Suh in the region that he is used to. The New York Jets need influential players in the middle of the defense after cutting Muhammad Wilkerson and they have $92 million in cap space to play with. Both the Browns and Colts need help at defensive tackle and have over $70 million in cap space. The Buccaneers are in desperate need of any pass rush, and the 49ers could complete the most talented defensive line ever by signing him, both have over $60 million in space.
Suh is not going to see another six-year, $100+ million offer. But a four-year, $60 million one similar to what Calais Campbell signed with the Jaguars a year ago could certainly be a starting point for negotiations with the more desperate teams.
Suh’s ill-discipline is likely to dissuade some teams, but his talent is unquestionable. He was graded out as the fifth-best defensive tackle last year by Pro Football Focus despite registering 4.5 sacks thanks to his continuous pressure at the top of the pocket and his brilliant run play, and he would make any team better.
However, as both Detroit and Miami have found out, paying a defensive tackle obscene amounts of money is not a great way to build a team. While The likes of the Jets and Indianapolis can afford a big cap hit this season, it won’t take them long to struggle under the burden of paying Suh some $19+ million a year.
The smart money says that the competitive teams low-ball Suh or stay away entirely, while the bad ones throw as much of a front-loaded deal as they can at him. Don’t be surprised if one of the greatest defensive players of this generation ends up on a team that won’t make the playoffs in 2018, or 2019. Suh has proven to be driven by money rather than team-building, and while there is nothing wrong with that approach, it limits your opportunities to be on a Super Bowl contending roster.
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