Should the Dolphins Restructure Ndamukong Suh’s Contract

Yesterday Mike Tannenbaum of the Miami Dolphins told ESPN that restructuring the contract of Ndamukong Suh would be a possibility to gain cap space to help improve the team.  The Dolphins currently are one of just a handful of teams we project to be over the cap so they will need to make some moves, but should this be one of them is the real question. So let’s look at his contract and what a restructure could look like for the Dolphins.

I discussed Suh’s contract last year in detail last season because of how monumental the contract was and how absurd it seemed to place this value on him. Suh earned about $6 million  year more than the next highest paid defensive tackle, received a massive signing bonus to deflate his 2015 cap number, and earned a $60 million guarantee that not even the best quarterbacks receive.   Not surprisingly he was a disappointment last year, not necessarily because he played poorly but because the expectation was Superman and quite frankly there is no possible way to be Superman as an interior defensive lineman.

When you restructure a contract for cap relief the player is not giving the team a discounted price. Often this is a misconception that is fueled by agents who tell their players to say in interviews that “they are open to restructuring their contract for the good of the team”. In reality a restructure is a simple conversion of base salary or a roster bonus that counts in full against the cap into a prorated bonus that is spread out over five years. The pay is the same to the player either way and in some cases is paid sooner than originally planned.

In addition the player receives huge contract protection because that bonus payment helps act as a future barrier to a player’s release. When you cut a player there is usually a salary cap charge associated with the release. This is what we call “dead money”, a charge for a player no longer on the team. That dead money can lock a player into their contract because the alternative is worse financially for a team. If a player has a cap charge of $14 million but a $15 million charge if released there is a good chance the team is not going to cut the player to lose $1 million in cap room and have to replace the player on the roster. I usually call years like that “virtually guaranteed”.

When we look at Suh’s current contract the first three contract years (2015-2017) were actually guarateed on paper.  That thrid year of guarantees upon signing if very rare, but if you look at the contract structure, which would have called for a $15.1M cap hit vs a $15.3M dead money charge without the written guaratee, 2017 was virtually guaranteed. Rather than haggle over details ( and Im sure loving the idea of making a big splash Miami just put the guarantee in the contract). Beyond that Suh would be become cuttable. In 2018 his cap charge is $22.1 million and the cost on the cap to release is $10.2 million. Thats a huge gain in cap room and actual cash for the year. He has to play at a very high level to earn that money.

If you restructure the contract that can change. 2018 very likely can turn from not guarteed to virtually guaranteed with the stroke of a pen. Here would be some of the possible scenarios for Miami:

1. Max Restructure: Create $18 million in cap room in 2016
In this restructure Miami would convert almost all of Suh’s salary to a signing bonus. It would clearly lock him in at a massive charge in 2018 and leave them with a massive charge when cut in 2019. It would really give them little leverage and possibly require more restructures later on. This would, in my opinion, be a very bad option for Miami.

YearCapDeadSaved
2016$10,420,000$53,870,000-$43,450,000
2017$19,645,000$19,630,000$15,000
2018$26,645,000$23,835,000$2,810,000
2019$28,645,000$14,190,000$14,455,000
2020$22,920,000$4,545,000$18,375,000

2. $15M Restructure: Save $12 million cap in 2016

This is a better alternative as you could at least make an argument that you could cut Suh in 2018, though more likely you would look to reduce his salary because I cant picture a team taking a near $20M dead cap charge for 1 player.

YearCapDeadSaved
2016$16,600,000$53,870,000-$37,270,000
2017$18,100,000$18,085,000$15,000
2018$25,100,000$19,200,000$5,900,000
2019$27,100,000$11,100,000$16,000,000
2020$21,375,000$3,000,000$18,375,000

3. $10M Restructure: Save $8 million cap in 2016

Here Miami doesn’t get the cap relief needed to go crazy in free agency, but it would open room to function without doing much else with the team. While it would hurt to cut him in 2018 under this scenario he is far less locked in than the other two. I dont think Miami would do less than this number if they were really considering the move, but you can guesstimate pretty quickly what those changes would look like.

YearCapDeadSaved
2016$20,600,000$53,870,000##########
2017$17,100,000$17,085,000$15,000
2018$24,100,000$16,200,000$7,900,000
2019$26,100,000$9,100,000$17,000,000
2020$20,375,000$2,000,000$18,375,000

This contract was always going to be a problem for Miami because of both the cost and the way they structured the deal.  In my opinion there is no reason for them to restructure this contract. The way they originally structured this contract left them two windows to compete ad they should simply honor that. One year, 2015, was already a bust but a $15.1M cap charge in 2017 is at least reasonable as is the cost of releasing him in 2018 at $10.2 million if it all fails and you start over again.

More or less any restructure puts Miami in “2016 or bust” mode. Considering the team is coming off a 6-10 record I’m not sure that is really where they need to go especially when there are other options for cap relief. If all goes well and they have Suh at an affordable number in 2017 then they can try to make something big happen. But their only protection is going to come from just leaving the deal as is and working around what everyone in that front office should consider a fixed and not a variable cost for the next two years.

  • Werner

    2016 will be a bust either way for Dolphins. 18′ Cap Space will not put them to 10-6 or better. AFC East looks pretty nice next year : Jets up to make it happen this time, Ryan on the Playoff or Bust Hot Seat in Buffalo and Patriots preparing for next run to SB with P. Manning removed from the Scene.

    • McGeorge

      In 2016 the Patriots have a good chance of getting to the super bowl regardless if Manning retires or not. He wasn’t the reason Denver got there. The Patriots need to address their Oline.

      The Jets will have a harder schedule and will probably find it difficult to repeat 10-6. I can see them going 8-8.

      • Dan Kunze

        “He wasn’t the reason Denver got there.” Ain’t that the truth. But he will be one of the reasons that they get pounded in 10 days by Carolina.

        • Cant FixStupid

          Isn’t that what people were saying before the Broncos Patriots game??

      • ksperfect

        Osweiler will be the Quarterback of the Broncos next year whether Manning wants to keep playing or not. They can’t pay both and sign Von Miller. Ironically, Manning played exactly how Osweiler usually does, strong in the first half, terrible in the second.

  • McGeorge

    I’m surprised that they have to restructure after *1* year.
    That shows lack of planning, and I wouldn’t have expected that from Mike Tannenbaum.
    He usually doesn’t screw up the cap like this. It sounds like a move that teh Saints would make.

    Naturally I am pleased at this, since I’m not a Dolphins fan.

    • ksperfect

      The Dolphins probably planned to restructure this year’s cap number for Suh when he signed the contract.

      Copying the Saints approach with Byrd.

      • McGeorge

        How can that be effective cap management?
        Why structure it that way in the first place?

        • NW86

          Restructuring means changing year 2 salary into signing bonus, so it can be prorated out over the rest of the contract rather than all counting against year 2’s cap. They didn’t want to make it signing bonus in the beginning, because then the proration would have started in 2015. So they kept the 2015 number low, now they can prorate the rest. A lot of teams do this with their biggest contracts.

          • McGeorge

            Ok, that makes sense. Thank you for the explanation.
            It seems the Dolphins will be hamstrung the next couple of years, unless the cap rapidly rises.

    • Ghoston

      Tanny did this with the jets. dummy years and all kinds of garbage to fudge the numbers. Then have the worst dead money on the books later. This was basically an option year signing bonus to spread the signing bonus to 2 years, notice 6 year deal. That 6th year was a dummy year to help this option bonus kick in to lower the cap the first 2 years than take a hit later down the road. That’s how he got the jets in kind of a jumble with the cap. Well the Dolphins will have more carry over money now for 2017……lol

      I still don’t get your fascination with carry over money is.

      • McGeorge

        Carry over money lets you keep players at a time of your choosing. rather than keeping an expensive player when you are 8-8, you save the money so when you are challenging for the division title, you can keep a key player.

  • NW86

    I still can’t fathom what Miami was thinking on this one. I never thought I would say that a team signed a worse contract than Dallas did with Roy Williams or Buffalo did with Mario Williams, but this one is just incredibly bad. They obviously set themselves up with the plan to restructure when they set it up to have a $6M cap hit last year and $28.6M this year. They really need to keep that restructure to a minimum though to avoid being stuck forever on this overblown contract.

  • eddiea

    Ppl say the NFL is a copy cat league,but all but the smartest copy the wrong things. After seeing what Dallas went through and what Saints are now, why get into salary purgatory for an above avg player. Suh is good but not a franchise changer and not for that salary. Oh well,they’ll spin it again and say it was money well spent. Then cry when can’t make playoffs b/c they can’t pay for better players