The Cost of Trading Ndamukong Suh


According to Scott Bischoff the Detroit Lions are discussing the possibility of trading DT Ndamukong Suh in order to move up in the draft.

Suh has one of the most unique contract situations in the NFL. Between draft status and poor salary cap management by the Lions, Suh’s cap charge in 2014 is $22.4 million. Suh will be a free agent in 2015, but because he has a voidable year for 2015 in his contract, failing to re-sign Suh would result in a charge of $9.737 million against the salary cap in 2015. Due to the heavy proration in that 2015 year the cost to cut or trade Suh this season would leave the Lions with $19.5 million in dead cap.  The Lions can’t franchise Suh due to the cost so they can not even threaten to block him from free agency. Suh, who recently switched agents and wants a new contract, has all the leverage in the world to force the Lions to accept a player friendly contract.

Suh’s cap charge is nearly $7 million higher than the next highest defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy of the Buccaneers. McCoy was selected one spot behind Suh in the draft, but Tampa did not touch his contract to create the type of leverage that Suh has with the Lions.  Defensive tackle is not a premier pay position (the highest veteran contract belongs to the Bengals’ Geno Atkins at $10.665 million per year with just $15 million fully guaranteed) and teams should have been aware that by drafting the position highly they were already locking themselves in at a top of the market price for a player who never stepped foot in the NFL. Any reworking of the contract will just make the situation unbearable and the Lions did it twice with Suh.

Suh is likely looking at the teams salary cap situation and asking for a contract that would increase, perhaps substantially, from his current $12.9 million a year contract. The Lions have already gone well beyond the norms of a positional salary with wide receiver Calvin Johnson so Suh should believe they would do the same for him.  However, with so much money tied up already in Johnson and QB Matthew Stafford, it is arguable that the Lions can be competitive for the long haul at these salary levels. They may view the situation with Suh as one that cant be resolved and thus would be better for them to move forward with a much lower cost rookie player at an impact position on the roster.

While it is easy to get wrapped up in the $19.5 million dead cap charge that Suh would leave the Lions with, if we play the scenario out it Detroit would save significant cap dollars by trading Suh. If the Lions allow Suh to play out his contract and he becomes a free agent the Lions will spend a total of $32.15 million in cap dollars on Suh for just the 2014 season. That total is made up of the enormous cap figure in 2014 and the dead money in 2015. If they trade Suh the team would take on a $19.475 million hit this year and have Suh off the books in 2015. They save $12.675 million over a two year period.

If the deal would be something like Suh and the number 10 pick for the number 2 pick in the draft they would add in the ballpark of an additional $1.8 million in 2014 and $2.3 million in 2015 to their anticipated draft allotments in terms of cap spending. All told the team would create around $8 million in additional cap space over the two year period rather than having Suh and the 10th pick in the draft. In terms of cash they would avoid paying Suh his $12.55 million salary  while picking up around an extra $7 million in bonus commitments, a savings of around $5.5 million in cash. These are real gains for the Lions especially since the cost of an extension for Suh would now be gone.

The other possibility, if the Lions are floating this rumor, is that Detroit is using the rumor to let Suh know that they are not afraid of the salary cap charges associated with moving him off the team. If Suh did become a free agent in 2015 I have a hard time believing he would make that much more than Atkins on the open market. With Detroit he has leverage but elsewhere he will not. This might be Detroit’s best strategy to bring him to the negotiating table with realistic expectations.

If they are serious about trading Suh, there are few teams who could take on the cost. The team acquiring Suh would have to set aside $12.675 million in cap space for him. There are 14 teams that currently have the room to take him on. The teams with draft selections higher than the Lions that have the space are the Texans, Jaguars, Browns, Buccaneers, and Bills, with only the top three having premier draft selections. If a team could sign Suh to an extension that could extend the pool, but if Suh is set on a price he may not come down quick enough to allow that to happen quickly.




  • seenable

    “If Suh did become a free agent in 2015 I have a hard time believing he would make that much more than Atkins on the open market.”

    Why? Atkins never hit the market. And since then we’ve had the salary cap inflation reality. Suh will have multiple teams bidding for him. That’s all the leverage he needs.

    • I disagree. I think most times your best leverage comes when negotiating an extension where you can get the APY you want but the team can manage the cap better. Atkins was a superior player in the year he earned his extension to Suh. Teams will want Suh dont get me wrong but Id be surprised if it is at break the bank prices. Even with the bump in cap nobody really hit those kind of marks.

  • london27

    As a Lion fan in London, my question is, who within the Lion organisation agreed and allowed this contract to become so un-manageable?

    • Such decisions pretty much fall on the GM and cap manager. I would imagine the GM says we need to do something and the job of the cap guy is to present scenarios by which they work. In the Lions case they had few options if they did not want to release people.

      • seenable

        With the Lions, that’s how I understand it as well. As a longtime fan, at least. Some combination of Martin Mayhew (EVP of football Operations, GM) and Tom Lewand (Team President). If anything, Lewand has a bit more pull with the cap plan than the dynamic you laid out.

        • london27

          Thanks to both of you for your answers! Appreciated!
          I think Suh is a very good player, but in my view, his contract is a ticking time bomb on the salary cap. And the Lions can either take the financial hit as soon as possible and then move forward (which I would do) or allow this to negatively influence other player personnel decisions.
          As far as Mayhew and Lewand are concerned, they are lucky that the Ford family has allowed them to stay after negotiating this contract.

          • jack_sprat2

            Ownership may well have been as responsible as they were, though. It’s not as if Bill Ford’s mortality was a secret to anyone, including him. Fifty years without a Champion is a long, long time. Many were convinced, after the false Spring of 2011, that NOW was the time to strike. That included many (supposedly) informed observers. So, instead of cutting a veteran or three who were never going to get us to the Promised Land, they doubled down.

            I thought that the seeming consensus was flat out nuts, at the time, but who really knows whose opinion won the day, in the inner councils in Detroit. Nobody there will throw anybody under the bus, in any case, so I’ll refrain from piling on MM & Lewan.

            Oh, insofar as “negotiations” go, there really are none in these deals. Basically, the team goes to the player, gets his signature, and gives him much of his money up front. It’s better than a guarantee! (Putting aside the fact that it often exposes a player to a greater likelihood of being cut, in later years. Well, that and the angry yammering that inevitable will come, when many fans (and reporters) expose their innumeracy to the world.)

          • london27

            Thanks Jack, appreciate your comments from that “side of the pond”.

            Was it a false spring?
            I still believe in Stafford (in my view potentially the best QB in the NFL) and
            see the problems on the field more down to, receivers especially TE’s dropping
            catches, poor clock management by the coaches and complete failure to find a suitable
            replacement for Hanson (especially seeing how many games the Lions lost by just

            But then again, I feel the Lions should use the old “run and shoot” offense until
            we enter red zone territory.

            Apologies for the side-track, but going back to Suh contract. What is the feeling over there
            with Lions fans? To extend the contract again…or cut and trade as soon as possible?

  • NW86

    I have wondered all along if Detroit would consider that, and I’m surprised it took this long for this rumor to surface. The Lions were put in a tough position having top picks those last couple years before the new CBA and were forced to sign high dollar rookie contracts. But they compounded those problems since then while trying to keep the team together under a tight cap situation by giving Megatron the huge extension and pushing his high cap hit years into the future, and then doing the same by restructuring Suh and restructuring/extending Stafford. They’ve been pushing the snowball for too long and now it is simply too big to keep pushing. Suh’s agent knows his leverage, thus the reason why they haven’t worked out an extension yet, even though both sides have wanted one for months.

    Personally, whether I was in the Lions front office or anywhere else, I wouldn’t want to commit over $12M/yr or over $25M guaranteed to Suh. I would be worried about what trouble he would get into, both on the field and off of it. Even without the trouble, is he really that much better than the top DT’s around the league?

    As for trade value, I can’t see another team wanting to jump on this $12.7M, 1 year hit for Suh, especially this far into the offseason. By this point, they probably have an idea what their plan is on the Defensive Line. For Detroit to do this effectively, I think they should have floated the trade idea back before free agency.

    • I cant see a team doing it. Teams are getting smarter and realizing that sinking over the top money into positions just doesnt work. As it stands I think its debatable if it even works with the QB, but in that respect its more about what weight you give to championships vs sustained regular season success. With teams running less and less the DT, IMO is much less important than he was in the past. I think it will be hard to move him unless they are looking for a late 1st rounder and a good team thinks he can help.

    • nobody really

      I can see Suh as a Texan soon and that would be quite a formidable D

  • Matthew McNutt


    According to the CBA, it states that the Franchise tag number shall be 120% of the player’s previous year salary. Although Suh has a cap hit of $22 million, his salary is $12.55 million. Are you sure that his Franchise tag number would be 120% of his cap number or is it 120% of his $12.55 base salary? Thanks for any clarification!

    • Ryan Feder

      Article 10: Section 2(e)

      For the purposes of this Article, “Salary” means the total of the Paragraph 5 Salary (reduced proportionately if the contract is entered into after the first regular season game), roster and reporting bonuses, pro-rata portion of signing bonus, and other payments to players in compensation for the playing of professional football for the applicable year of the player’s most recently negotiated Player Contract, except for performance bonuses other than roster and reporting bonuses. Salary shall also include any unrepaid loans made, guaranteed or collateralized by a Team or its Team Affiliate to a Player Affiliate. “Prior Year Salary” means the Salary (as defined in this Subsection) for the last League Year of the player’s most recently negotiated Player Contract

      • Matthew McNutt

        Thanks and Thanks for referencing !

      • jack_sprat2

        I’ve read it several times, yet I still don’t know how RESTRUCTURING bonuses are to be treated. For instance, would it matter exactly what had been rolled up, viz. salary or option bonus, in Suh’s case. (There’s also the matter of the rolled up money for 2015.) I mean, if teams knew that a restructuring bonus would be counted that way, then they’d be bat-shit crazy to do one, IMO, simply BECAUSE of the potential effect on the tag. There’s certainly no logical reason for not pro-rating things, subject to the maximum 5-year horizon.

        Granted, the rules can be completely arbitrary, I’m familiar enough with labor bargaining to know that they typically write new rules from arguments out of precedent. (Probably because the human mind seeks to make sense out of things. Like animal shapes in the clouds and Jimmy Johnson’s draft trade value chart.)

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  • Bo Jørgensen

    If Lions cant trade Suh, i think they should consider cutting him past 1. of June. I know they would get nothing in return, but they would save $12.675.000 on this years cap, allowing them to sign there draftclass and have a working cap this year. I know they would be charged with $9.737.500 in dead money in both 2014 and 2015 but those money are the result of bad cap management and i can’t be fixed now. If they cut Suh they would be on the road to better cap management, if they extend Suh, they would have to overpay and stay in cap-hell.

  • nobody really

    This one is all on Lewand…. the best way forward is to release him now so they have cap space available next year….