The Dolphins are quite good at making splashy offseason signings, and this one will send ripples throughout the NFL: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, considered among the NFL’s best defensive players, will sign with the Dolphins on Tuesday, ESPN first reported on Sunday.
Suh, 28, will become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, with a six-year contract for $114 million, or $19 million per season. The deal, according to ESPN, will include $60 million guaranteed, with $60 million of the overall $114 million to be paid in the first three seasons.
With Suh anchoring Detroit’s defensive line, the Lions were first against the run last season, allowing 69.3 yards per game. The Dolphins, conversely, were 24th against the run, relinquishing 121.1 yards on the ground per game, and were gashed in several late-season games.
“Simply put, Suh is the best defensive tackle in the NFL,” ESPN analyst and former NFL general manager Bill Polian said. “If not double-teamed, he will win virtually every time.”
The Dolphins made improving their run defense a priority, and Suh will undoubtedly do that. Pro Football Focus graded him second against the run among all defensive tackles last season, behind Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus.
But Suh also will boost the Dolphins’ pass rush, which already was solid with the presence of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
Miami ranked 13th in the NFL in sacks per pass play last season. Suh had 8.5 sacks in 2014, ranking 22nd overall in the league, and 36 in his career, which is four more than any defensive tackle over the past five seasons.
The Dolphins beat out the Lions, Chargers and several other suitors for the player considered the most impactful in this free agent class. Detroit offered $17 million per season and $58 million guaranteed in an attempt to keep him.
Suh has been named first-team All-Pro four times in his first five NFL seasons. Since coming into the league in 2010 as the second overall draft pick out of Nebraska, Suh ranks first among defensive tackles in sacks, snaps and disrupted quarterback dropbacks, and third in tackles.
Over the past three seasons, Pro Football Focus rated him fourth, second and third among all defensive tackles.
He led all tackles with 37 quarterback hurries last season (eight more than any other tackle) and had 54 the year before. He is durable, having never missed a game due to injury.
But Suh has been to the playoffs only twice in five years, losing both games.
And Suh, who was drafted second overall out of Nebraska in 2010, also comes with a reputation of sometimes going over the line. In a 2012 Sporting News poll, active players named Suh the NFL’s dirtiest player.
Suh served a two-game suspension in 2011 after he stomped on the arm of then-Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. A year later, Suh was fined $30,000 by the NFL for kicking then-Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin during a Thanksgiving game.
Since 2010, Suh has been fined seven times and $216,875 for player-safety violations.
With Suh joining the Dolphins, it appears Miami will not be able to afford to re-sign defensive tackle Jared Odrick.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins had not told defensive tackle Randy Starks if they will retain him; Starks has a $6 million cap hit if he’s on the team and $1 million if he’s not.
Suh’s $60 million in guaranteed money will be the most in NFL history, topping the $54 million for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ deal. At $19 million per year, only four players will earn more than Suh: quarterbacks Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Drew Brees.
Suh is the second defensive tackle (after Albert Haynesworth) to sign a nine-figure deal. The richest deal for a defensive player had been Houston Texans linebacker J.J. Watt's $100 million contract.
The Dolphins still must address other needs. They have inquired about several defensive backs in the first two days of free agency, with cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Robert McClain and safety Da’Norris Searcy among those of interest to them. Players are not allowed to sign contracts or meet with new teams until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Dolphins also face a substantial cap hit --- at least $7.1 million --- to re-sign tight end Charles Clay, who is expected to generate strong interest from Buffalo when he’s permitted to begin negotiating with other teams on Tuesday.
The Dolphins hold the right to match any offer for Clay because they placed the transition tag on him.