The reason the Miami Dolphins are planning to cut Ndamukong Suh on Wednesday, signaling something of a reboot for this team when you consider the best offensive player is gone and now a very good defensive player is about to get axed, boils down to ...
... Team culture.
The Dolphins have decided that the way to build a team is to, well, build a team. It’s not about adding the most talented individuals with the biggest contracts and biggest egos. It’s not about adding players who are working on their brands.
It’s about the team.
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And last year the Dolphins were broken as a team. Yes, they were 6-10. Everybody saw that. But within themselves the Dolphins, after a lot of self study and difficult, honest evaluation, have come to the conclusion they were simply not right as a team — as a group.
The chemistry was bad. Toxic even.
And part of that toxicity is being sucked out of the Dolphins locker room this offseason. Now “chemistry” and “team” have become a higher priority than just about everything — including sheer individual talent.
So the team wants to move on from Suh, yes, because there will be a significant salary cap windfall that can eventually be used to sign the 2018 draft class and improve cap room space in the coming years.
But it’s also because Suh was a fine individual player who was never really a team guy as far as the Dolphins were concerned.
That demands exploring because fans and even some NFL general managers love to add talent at all costs. That’s how they build a team, by stacking blue chip atop blue chip.
But have you seen how the New England Patriots have done it for years? How Bill Parcells did it years ago? How the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins did it in their heyday? They went to the Super Bowls with some great leaders framed by players we never heard of until they got on the big stage.
Obviously those teams had talent, too. But the talent worked within the framework of the team — except maybe Lawrence Taylor who was a freak on many levels and an exception.
This past year the Patriots went to the Super Bowl with a defense comprised mostly of guys we never heard of. They played well enough to get to the NFL’s grandest stage because those guys played together. They worked as a unit.
The Dolphins? They were seemingly more talented on defense last season and definitely more expensive for owner Stephen Ross. But they struggled because too often the individuals played for themselves instead of with each other.
And the most prominent individualist on the Dolphins defense? Ndamukong Suh.
It’s not right or fair to say Suh was a bad apple. Well, in 2015 he was a bad apple. No one in the Dolphins building liked him. In 2016, he got better. And in 2017 he worked toward being better still.
But at his core, Suh is about ... Suh.
So when something was not ideal for him, he checked into 2015 mode and left the better 2017 version Suh behind.
This wouldn’t have been a problem if the Dolphins had stronger leaders in their locker room. If Jason Taylor or Tim Bowens, who could force Suh to be about something greater than himself, were in there, things would be different.
But the Dolphins didn’t have anyone like that. And still don’t.
So that leadership vacuum made Suh the leader.
An individualist as the defense’s leader.
Defense, a unit that needs to work and play with one heartbeat, led by an individualist. That’s absolutely stupefying.
It didn’t work. It wouldn’t work going forward.
By the way, Suh is a good player. He’s very good at taking up space and blockers. But the Dolphins, who gave him an enormous contract in 2015, were nonetheless 14th against the run in 2017.
The Dolphins paid a defensive tackle so much money it told everyone he would change the course of games. But defensive tackles don’t change the course of games. He couldn’t even significantly change the course of the run defense.
The Dolphins should have known this when they paid (overpaid) Suh as if he was a quarterback in 2015.
They apparently know it now.
So barring weirdness, Suh will be cut on Wednesday at or after 4 p.m. The Dolphins will designate him a post-June 1 cut. They will save $17 million in cap space while carrying $9.1 million in dead money.
What does that mean? The cutting of Suh will not be a boon immediately. It won’t factor until after June 1, and the team will carry Suh’s $26 million cap charge until then.
But the Dolphins are certain they have enough salary cap space now to do business in free agency when it begins on Wednesday. And the Suh windfall will be used to sign the draft class after June 1 and carry the rest into the season.
So you have questions.
Why didn’t the Dolphins trade Suh? That’s the obvious one.
It’s as simple as this: If the Dolphins had traded Suh, a full $22 million of his scheduled $26 million cap figure would remain on the books this season. The team decided that’s too much to carry.
As it is, the Dolphins will carry $13 million in dead money from the Suh deal in 2019.
This signing, so beloved by fans and even owner Stephen Ross in 2015, proved misguided. It was a bad contract that set the player up for life but also set him up to fail because of who he is and the position he plays.
The Dolphins must be wiser as they build their team in the days ahead.