The NFL Network’s ongoing countdown of the league’s Top 100 players revisited the Miami Dolphins Monday evening, with Ndamukong Suh coming in at No. 55.
And that’s very good.
It shows Suh’s peers respect him as one of the better players in the league. It marks the seventh year Suh is among the league’s Top 100, which is impressive because Suh has played seven seasons and that means he is super consistent.
So all good...
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You knew I wasn’t going to end it there, right? Right?
Look, every time the subject turns to one of the NFL’s better defensive tackles I’m going to always, and I do mean always, make this point: The Dolphins overpaid for Suh and the idea that it’s smart to overpay someone who doesn’t man one of the more important positions (QB, edge rusher, LT, CB, WR, maybe TE and safety) is bothersome.
And starting in 2017, it is going to get much more bothersome because Suh’s contract calls for his salary and reflective salary cap cost to rise to nose bleed heights.
Suh is considered the 55th best player in the league by his peers. But his $19.1 million cap hit for 2017 is scheduled to be the 16th highest in the NFL. So the Dolphins, it could be argued, are paying for the 16th best player but getting the 55th best, if you believe the best players should earn the most.
The $19.1 million cap hit the Dolphins are taking with Suh this coming season is higher than the cap hits for ...
Drew Brees ($19 million).
Russell Wilson ($18.8 million)
Ben Roethlisberger ($18.2 million).
So three Super Bowl winning QBs.
Suh’s cap hit is higher than Dez Bryant’s, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Luke Kuechly, J.J. Watt, and LeVeon Bell. You remember Bell running through the Dolphins defense last January in the playoffs? His cap number this year is $12.1 million -- some $7 million less than Suh’s.
Suh’s cap number this year is $5 million more than the $14 million the New England Patriots are paying for quarterback Tom Brady. And in the next two years when Brady’s contract calls for his salary cap number to rocket to $22 million each year, Suh’s cap numbers those years will still be higher than Brady’s.
That is bothersome to me.
(And now the peanut gallery is upset because Mando is not waving pom-poms about a good Dolphins player simply being good and leaving it there with a big hip-hip hooray! But that misses the greater point).
That point is that in the salary cap era, the allocation of funds on one player necessarily means those funds are not available elsewhere. Said another way, if the Dolphins were spending a more modest amount of cap room on Suh this year instead of 11 percent of their total cap, they might have been able to sign another very good defensive tackle in free agency and have two very good defensive tackles instead of one.
This is something I’ve been saying since Suh signed his contract in 2015 and no one seems to care because Suh is good. But I submit this will become a louder conversation and narrative beginning this season because the more palatable portions of Suh’s contract have passed and now, starting in 2017 and extending to 2019, the contract becomes substantially harder to stomach.
In 2018, for example, Suh’s cap number will climb from $19.1 million to $26.1 million.
In 2019, Suh’s cap number is scheduled to reach a contract-high $28.1 million.
The cap number is scheduled to come down in 2020 to a more manageable (cough) $22.375 million (cough) but I wouldn’t be surprised if Suh doesn’t see the end of the deal that year. Or perhaps even the previous two years.
Because anyone with eyes sees the Dolphins are not getting maximum bang for the buck with such a huge defensive tackle investment. Yes, Suh is good. He’s very good. But he does not consistently affect the outcome of games. He does not consistently factor on the scoreboard.
He is often erased from a play and even a game by two offensive linemen making about a third of what he makes -- combined.
This has been true for Suh since he came into the NFL. He’s been good for years. But he didn’t change the direction of the franchise in Detroit. He has not with the Dolphins.
Again, it’s not that he’s not a good player. It’s that he’s a defensive tackle and those guys simply don’t have the opportunities to make big plays like a Dez Bryant or Julio Jones or Brady.
The only way, in my humble opinion, Suh changes this narrative is if he starts factoring more in games. If he starts getting to the quarterback more, starts causing fumbles, creating chaos for the offense’s planning or execution, then the painful salary cap hits become more understandable.
But so far Suh has not done that with the Dolphins and, actually, the trend is kind of going in the other direction.
During his five years with the Detroit Lions, Suh averaged 7.2 sacks per season. He averaged slightly over 36 solo tackles per season. Surprisingly, he forced only two fumbles.
With the Dolphins, Suh has averaged 5.5 sacks per season. He’s averaged 39.5 solo tackles per season. He has not caused a fumble.
Suh’s stats the past three years seem headed in the wrong direction as well.
He had 8.5 sacks and 13 run stuffs for the Lions in 2014. That was his contract year.
He had six sacks and 11 run stuffs for the Dolphins in 2015. That was his first year in Miami.
He had five sacks and eight run stuffs for the Dolphins in 2016.
So Suh, 30, needs to flip the trend because his salary is going way up at a time his statistics are pointing in the other direction.
I’d say the big man has work to do so that next year if he’s in the NFL’s top 100 players again, the ranking more closely mirrors the ranking of his salary cap hit.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero