Armando Salguero

A nuanced look at Ndamukong Suh’s future with the Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Ndamukong Suh has earned the respect of his teammates and the Dolphins organization.
Miami Dolphins Ndamukong Suh has earned the respect of his teammates and the Dolphins organization. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A CBSSports.com report that the Miami Dolphins had decided to move on from Ndamukong Suh after this season set the team into a tizzy on Sunday.

It provoked tense calls between the team and reporters -- some getting yelled at, some asking for confirmation on the controversial report. Ultimately that led to a strong and rare on-the-record rebuke of the report directly from the team.

So, no, the Dolphins have definitely not decided to move on from Suh after this season. No, owner Stephen Ross is not demanding that the player he referred to in 2015 as being “like a son” be released next offseason.

The report was wrong.

Juicy, but wrong.

That is the black and white of things.

But as with many NFL things, there’s gray. There’s nuance that definitely is interesting -- at least to me.

First, let’s address the fact the erroneous report reached Suh’s ear. No, he didn’t read it because CBSSports.com is not The Miami Herald and Suh only reads The Miami Herald, and actually only reads Armando Salguero because Salguero is going to help him get into the Hall of Fame some day.

(Fine, so I’m kidding. But not about the HOF part).

“I didn’t really know about it until somebody made me aware of it,” Suh said Wednesday. “I’m not really concerned about it. I came to play here for Mr. Ross and help this organization win games, and make this defense an elite defense. That’s my goal.”

Suh has other admirable goals and one of those is this:

“I obviously signed a long-term deal here and I look forward to ending my career here,” Suh said.

The rest of Suh’s career would obviously include the three years beyond this one that are on his current contract. That contract runs through the 2020 season.

Those are facts. That’s black and white in no way open for debate.

So now the nuance? The gray?

Well, if that erroneous October 2017 report had been published in 2016, it would have had had a strong possibility of being accurate. At that point, there were indeed people within the Dolphins organization who weren’t in love with Suh.

Oh, they liked how he played.

But they didn’t like his standing within the team. Or within the building. Or on the team’s salary cap, where the defensive tackle is paid like a veteran starting quarterback.

So, yes, there were whispers Suh would not see the end of his current deal with Miami -- perhaps as late as last year.

But something changed toward the end of the 2016 season and through last offseason.

Ndamukong Suh turned 30 and it was as if he was born again as a great player, and great teammate, and great team leader, and a much more self-aware person.

Suddenly, people who couldn’t stand Suh the first year he was with the team started warming to him in no small part because he started warming up to them.

And obviously turning 30 played a role in this change. And Suh, a self-described introvert, getting comfortable around the people within the organization played a role. And even teammate Andre Branch, who seemed to draw Suh out for everyone else to know, played no small role.

The change has been cool. And, yes, it helps that Suh is playing very, very well this season.

The five-time Pro Bowl player leads all Miami defensive linemen with 22 tackles, is second on the team with four quarterback hits, and is third on the team with 2.5 sacks. This while being double teamed on most plays.

The Dolphins, by the way, are No. 8 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, which is a drastic improvement from being No. 30 last season.

So there’s that.

Except Suh’s contract remains something of an issue.

Suh counts $19.1 million on the Dolphins’ salary cap this season. Yes, that is a lot.

And that’s scheduled to rise to $26.1 million next season, which is mind-boggling, particularly for a defensive tackle. So, if the team wanted to simply cut Suh, it could save up to $17 million in cap space by designating him a post June 1 cut.

The club would still be on the hook for $9.1 million in dead money in 2018 and ‘19, and another $4 million in 2020, but the savings to the cap would be substantial -- again, $17 million in 2018, $19 million in 2019 and some $18 million and change in 2020.

Financially, it would make sense to cut Suh to give the Dolphins operating cap space. And that would almost certainly be the solution if we were talking 2015 Suh.

But we’re talking 2017 Suh, who is more valuable to the team and much more appreciated than he was previously.

So my guess is the Dolphins will try to work a restructure with Suh after this season. And, you should know, there are two kinds of salary restructure: One that simply moves money around for cap space purposes and one that trims the player’s salary.

The Dolphins may try asking Suh to take a shave, but I have no sourcing on that. That’s speculation. The easier approach is simply moving money around.

The Dolphins could save, say, $10 million in 2018 cap space by converting that amount of money into signing bonus. That would lower Suh’s cap number in 2018 to around $16 million.

Now, saving $10 million in cap room is not as much as saving $17 million in cap room. But Suh would still be on the team as opposed to being on the street. And there’s value to having Suh and not looking for a replacement when the team will already be spending a lot of resources on remaking the offense.

You should know that there’s a price to pay for dipping into Paragraph 33 of Suh’s contract under the term “Automatic Conversions’ and turning base salary into signing bonus. It raises the cap figures in 2019 and 2020 by the prorated amount of money the team lopped off the 2018 base salary.

So if the Dolphins convert $10 million next spring, it adds $5 million to the 2019 cap and another $5 million to 2020. That’s atop a 2019 cap charge that is already scheduled to be $28.1 million and a 2020 cap charge that is already scheduled to be $22.3 million.

So the Dolphins would be adding to each year’s already high cap charge.

Here’s where more nuance is necessary: Suh will be 32 years old in 2019. The Dolphins can easily offer him an extension that again makes him more guaranteed money and again lowers the cap charge for that year and for 2020.

And my guess is by that time the team won’t be paying Suh like he’s a quarterback. He might be on the back side of his career and if he really means it when he says he wants to end his career in Miami, he might take less money to stay.

All that is way, way off in the future.

For now, the point is Suh wants to stay with the Dolphins. The point is the Dolphins say they want him to stay and have no intention of getting rid of him next season. The point is there is a path for doing that while still not burdening the team’s salary cap situation.

And the nuance is that course didn’t seem to be one the Dolphins were going to navigate before Suh became, well, different. Better.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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