Looking at Ndamukong Suh, the $19 Million Man

The news broke today that Ndamukong Suh is set to sign a record breaking $19 million per year contract with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday. Rumors are that Suh will receive $60 million guaranteed and at least $55 million in the first three years. That latter number is roughly in line with what was earned by JJ Watt and Mario Williams on their most recent record setting contracts.  The $19 million total is unlike any in the history of the NFL. Is Suh worth it?

At an annual salary of $19 million a year, Suh becomes our top NFL “position buster”. A position buster is a player whose salary so far exceeds the norms the position they require an extra special player to warrant such a salary. Usually for this index I use the 5th highest paid player at the position. Here is my current chart:

PositionPlayerAPY5th Highest APY% Increase
DTSuh$19,000,000$7,287,500160.7%
34DEWatt$16,666,667$6,875,000142.4%
RBA. Peterson$14,380,000$7,600,00089.2%
WRJohnson$16,207,143$11,111,11145.9%
CBP. Peterson$14,010,000$10,020,00039.8%
CPouncey$8,827,325$6,458,75036.7%
TEGraham$10,000,000$7,350,00036.1%
43OLBBriggs$7,000,000$5,250,09433.3%
43DE/34OLBM. Williams$16,000,000$12,050,00032.8%
GMankins$8,500,000$6,750,00025.9%
SE. Thomas$10,000,000$8,000,00025.0%
TT. Smith$12,200,000$10,000,00022.0%
QBA. Rodgers$22,000,000$19,000,00015.8%
ILBWillis$10,000,000$8,750,00014.3%

In looking at the above chart it would seem that the contract was strongly based on JJ Watt’s recent contract extension with the desire from Suh to push the price as a generational player similar to Watt. I think most agree Watt is a generational player coming from a 34 defensive end position. But is Suh that kind of player for a defensive tackle? Let’s examine using some of the statistics maintained by Pro Football Focus

Pass Rushing

Suh is one of just 10 defensive tackles that has rushed the passer more than 700 times in the last two seasons. That is something that makes him unique. It means there is essentially no pass situation that he can not play in.  Here is how Suh stacks up in his pass rushing performance against that group of players:

 PlayerSnapsSacksTot. Pressures% Sacks% Hits/Hurries% Total Pressures
McCoy942191252.0%11.3%13.3%
 Suh1073131291.2%10.8%12.0%
Atkins7499741.2%8.7%9.9%
Dareus83418742.2%6.7%8.9%
 Marks92213771.4%6.9%8.4%
Babineaux9193750.3%7.8%8.2%
Odrick9496740.6%7.2%7.8%
Poe111012631.1%4.6%5.7%
Hayden7710340.0%4.4%4.4%
Brockers7188301.1%3.1%4.2%

Clearly this is very good for Suh, but he doesn’t rank first as that distinction goes to Gerald McCoy, who recently signed for $13.6 million per season and will earn about $44.5 million over three years. Sen’Derrick Marks provides the best value at $4.5 million per year. Still Suh has clearly put himself into an elite class.

Run Defense

For run defense I mainly just want to look at stops, which are basically the big stuffing type plays that Suh will make. Suh is one of 19 defensive tackles that has played more than 500 run snaps over the last two seasons.  Everyone on the above list also made the cut except Atkins, whose injury filled 2013 saw him just miss out. Here is how our subset of players performs.

NameSnapsTacklesStopsTackle %Stop %
Dareus568756013.2%10.6%
Suh559595110.6%9.1%
Poe73368539.3%7.2%
Brockers61047397.7%6.4%
McCoy61246387.5%6.2%
Babineaux60441376.8%6.1%
Odrick63548377.6%5.8%
Hayden53448319.0%5.8%
Marks65137345.7%5.2%

Again Suh is not the best player, but again he has separated himself from the field with a 10.6% tackle rate and 9.1% stop rate. This is the category where he separates himself more from McCoy.

Soft Factors

While these produce some type of expected statistical performance, PFF actually grades players on every snap. There may be a large number of plays where Suh is standing out and simply not getting a statistical grade for it. So I’ll look at their run and pass grades (I don’t see coverage or even penalties having a bearing on this) and weigh them at 43/57% which is basically the run/pass split in the NFL.

NameRushRunCom. Score
McCoy88.71.851.3
Suh49.12237.5
Dareus14.234.422.9
Odrick19.1-1.410.3
Marks21-16.84.8
Poe4.54.44.5
Babineaux0.2-6-2.5
Brockers-11.40.5-6.3
Hayden-24.4-35.6-29.2

This kind of confirms what we saw above. Over the last two seasons Suh is in an elite category, but it is certainly arguable whether or not he is the best at the position, let alone worth that much more than McCoy.

Final Take

For this kind of deal to work out for Miami Suh will either need to continue to improve in both facets of the game (his run performance spiked significantly in 2014) or have a material impact on his what is a decent defensive core around him. While that did not seem to be the case in Detroit (most year’s their defense was poor) the Dolphins do have better personnel. Miami may consider the fact that the current overwhelming weakness in the AFC East is line interior line play which can also benefit the statistical impact that Suh can have or help the team have.

Miami may also view Suh as one of a few players in the NFL at the position that can play all three downs. Those players are not available that often, at least ones who are very good. They may see Suh at $19M a better investment than drafting a player and hoping they become a high quality three down player or having to sign a run-stuffer and situational rusher for likely $10-$11million combined and likely not getting the same result as Suh. On a per dollar basis it’s clear Miami will lose out here, but they have virtually no risk of failure beyond injury, and that exists with every team.

In most of these cases of the big contract, the perception of the greatness of the player clouds the judgment of an organization when it comes to valuing the player. The fear of life without the player far exceeds the potential negative risk that signing such a contract will cause. For Suh he caught the perfect storm to earn this contract. The Lions poor handling of Suh’s contract made Suh a giant focus of the last two years furthering the reputation of the player. Suh’s nasty on the field antics made sure he was a household name like few others that play defense. It was essentially a free marketing tool that caused a market frenzy like no other.

Few of these big deals work out for a team, at least to the expected levels. Certainly the Peterson and Johnson led offenses haven’t led to deep playoff runs. Former position busters like Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders), Darrelle Revis (Buccaneers), and Chris Johnson (Titans) have led to poor results. Mario Williams was arguably a position buster and it took years for that defense to become great around him and it still hasn’t even led to one playoff game. Maybe Suh will be the player to change it. Miami is certainly banking on it.

  • buk

    This move won’t do much to improve Miami but over next 5yrs it makes sense. Both Grimes and Wake are in early thirties counting 10mil each against the cap this year. Those players are not part of Miami’s future at that age. Wallace is surely gone after this year unless he decides to accept a paycut. Brady will be 40 in 2yrs and Suh will only be 30yr. At that time Tannehill might be the best QB in AFC East considering the Bills and Jets situation at QB. So Tannehill and Suh could be the Dolphins building block players over the next few years as they turn over the roster. Also Dion Jordan is still counting 6 mil against their cap, if inclusion of Suh does not turn him loose it’s time to cut him as he’ll be a first rd bust.

    • McGeorge

      How does overpaying a player ever make sense, unless you think it’s the missing piece for a super bowl push? (like the Pats and Revis).
      I’m pleased the Dolphins paid this much.

  • Kyle Ferguson

    And I thought 16 mil was a bit much. Basically they are paying him to be as impactful as an elite quarterback, let’s see how that works out.

  • David Thompson

    Considering we paid Ellerbe and Wheeler $14 last year, an extra $5 for Suh doesn’t seem like a terrible move by this regime. Definitely will see more outta him on the field than those 2 combined.

  • NW86

    These numbers are ridiculous if you ask me. Even with the early talk of him becoming the highest paid defensive player in the league, I didn’t believe it. It turns out that he will – by a LARGE margin. It is arguable whether he’s the best DT, but what isn’t arguable is that he is not JJ Watt. And Watt plays a higher-paid position. And he had 2 years left on his rookie contract when he signed his extension, so his deal could really be considered more like 8 yrs/110M for $13.75M/yr. And Suh has character problems. Why any team would want to guarantee even $30M in Suh is beyond me. I can’t see any way this works out well for Miami.

  • Herb Hovest

    Awesome post Jason! It’s clear that anybody would rather have McCoy or Watt on their deals as compared to Suh on his current one. However, that’s the premium you pay when get elite talent through the open market rather than drafting & developing your own talent.

    As a Fish fan, I am elated by the news. If Suh is on our team last year, he is probably enough to swing a few games our way and into the playoffs. (Lions, Packers, Jets) It all still depends on Tannehill, but this move increases the margin of error RT has.

  • Jim

    Mario Williams is tough, because he hasn’t been a “bust” in the same way Asomugha, Revis, Johnson did (go back further, Albert Haynesworth), and in fact, he is largely the same player he was for the Texans. But geez, there’s not getting your money’s worth there.

    In both cases of the Bills and Phins, signing the big fish in free agency is a play at making your team better, but moreso than that, it’s striving for respect having been irrelevant for so long and giving your team a “face” almost all NFL fans can identify with. It helps too, they will sell a lot of jersey’s, and in that aspect, some of the cost can be returned (though not in a way pertaining to the salary cap).

    • Spacemonkey

      The Mario Williams signing made the rest of the D better. There is a reason that they have finished in the top 3 sack leaders every year since he came on board.

      • Jim

        I’m not saying he’s not a good player, just nowhere near ~1/8th of the teams salary cap. M. Dareus, Kyle Williams are really, really good players, no matter if Mario Williams is there or not. Hughes benefits the most. When you have as much money tied up on 4 players that are DL/edge rushers (M. Dareus, K Williams, M. Williams, J Hughes), ya I sure hope you’re top 3 in sacks.

        How are you going to feel when 25 year old Dareus asks for $16m/year and you are faced with spending almost $50m out of ~$145m cap in 2016, on M. Dareus, K Williams, M. Williams, J Hughes? You have 49 other roster spots, less than $100m to spend and still no QB. There’s an opportunity cost associated with giving Mario Williams a $96m contract.

        • eYeDEF

          A QB is not going to materialize whether or not Mario Williams is paid. You’re talking like the opportunity cost of signing Mario is some franchise QB that they could have signed in free agency instead. That’s silly talk. The only tried and true method of getting a franchise QB is to draft and develop one. Super Mario is a franchise defensive player who has been instrumental to the Bills’ defensive renaissance. It was a good signing.

    • DaStrongSKRAWN

      Revis a bust HOW? Bucs gave him his 16M a season which was only guaranteed if they wanted him to stay. He played tremendously everywhere he went. He deserves top CB cash. So, how has Revis been a bust?

  • Kirk Vollmer

    Terrible decision if you ask me. Suh’s a good player but they just paid him quite a bit more then JJ Watt who is a better player. I don’t think Suh fits in as a once a generation player on defense. Miami is going to find itself in the red on salary cap soon if they don’t stop overpaying on players like this.

  • McGeorge

    Suh is better than JJ Watt!!
    Oops, no he’s not.

    I’m glad a Jets division rival signed him for this kind of money.
    Tannanbaum is a good cap specialist, but a talent evaluator he’s not.