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
RBA. Peterson$14,380,000$7,600,00089.2%
CBP. Peterson$14,010,000$10,020,00039.8%
43DE/34OLBM. Williams$16,000,000$12,050,00032.8%
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%

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

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 %

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

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.

Comparing Contracts: How Dolphins can Land Suh over Raiders

Thursday night during my weekly salary cap Q&A on Twitter I started getting a great deal of questions about the rumors about Ndamukong Suh signing with the Dolphins. The basic questions centered around how could a team like the Dolphins, who are cap strapped, compete with a team like the Raiders who will have $70 million in cap room by the time free agency begins. So let’s expand on this and show the ways Miami can create a stronger contract for Suh to consider.

Now for this exercise I will base everything on a 6 year $100M deal for Suh.  The cash flows would closely mimic those of JJ Watt with slightly more going to Suh over the first three years than Watt received.

The major difference between the two organizations at the moment is their approach to contract structuring, something the Dolphins will try to exploit. The Dolphins are now run by Mike Tannenbaum who will be willing to use both the signing bonus and option bonus mechanisms to work a player into the salary cap as evidenced by his time on the Jets.

The Raider’s Reggie McKenzie has been essentially opposed to using any prorated contract mechanisms. The only value player last year where the team prorated significant money was for tackle/guard Austin Howard and that was most likely caused by a clerical error than being intentional.  This is something the Dolphins will try to exploit.

In my proposed contract with the Dolphins Suh will receive a $32 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary for a first year salary of $33 million. In year two Suh would receive a $6 million option bonus and $5 million salary. The first two years would be fully guaranteed and figure year 3 is injury guaranteed. Here is how the contract would look:

YearBaseSBOBCapDeadSavingsRun. Cash

Our contract gives the Dolphins two years of virtual cap relief on the contract with just $20 million to be accounted for in 2015 and 2016. This gives the Dolphins time to get their roster in order, dead weight off the books, and be helped by a rising salary cap before Suh’s contract becomes a burden.

The Raiders would be unable to match the first years cash flow using their traditional model, due a small rule known as the 50% rule that will cause large differentials in first and second year salary to be treated as a signing bonus. Without moving off their preferred structure, Oakland would need to offer more money to Suh in the first two years of his contract than Miami (nearly $50 million total) which would seem excessive for any player. Here is how the Raiders would be able to most closely match the cash flow of the contract:

YearBaseSBOBCapDeadSavingsRun. Cash

Oakland would essentially eat up half their cap in one year on Suh, which isn’t unreasonable. The Raiders simply have to convince Suh that the one year less in upfront cash is fair. The team can combat this a bit by turning a majority of his 2016 base into a roster bonus paid in March  to try to improve on the timing of payments compared to Miami’s.

But in looking at the two contract’s the important thing to consider is what happens for Suh after the guarantees in the contract run out? We can turn to the Expected Contract Value metric to try to put the two offers more in context:


In this valuation the Dolphins offer would be expected to earn the player about $2.5M more than the Raiders one. This is mainly due to the likelihood of Suh seeing the 3rd and 4th contract years being greater with Miami (89% and 65.8%) than Oakland (77.3% and 58.1%).

That outcome should also change even more in the Dolphins favor if they either give him a larger option bonus but smaller base in year 2 or restructure his contract in 2017 for further cap relief. Neither of those, specifically the restructure, is remotely likely in Oakland.

What this means is that if Oakland doesn’t come off their standard contract they will likely need to beat the Dolphins four year cash offer by somewhere between $3 and 4 million to actually have the earning power of the player remain the same. If we begin to factor in things like state taxes it may be even more.

None of this means the Raiders don’t have a shot unless they change their contract approach and we are certainly making many assumptions on contract structure, but this illustrates the why and how a team with such limited cap space can compete on equal footing in a competitive market with a team with huge cap room.  We’ll see how things play out next week but Miami will need to employ a very player favorable structure to make this work in their favor.

Thoughts on Gerald McCoy’s $95.2 Million Contract with the Buccaneers


(EDITORS NOTE: This was writted before I saw Joel Corry’s full breakdown of the contract. The numbers are  slightly different, and more team friendly, than my estmates and what I discuss here but its very close and the analysis still holds up)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy agreed today on a new 7 year contract extension worth a reported $95.2 million in new money with $51.5 million in guarantees. The huge numbers immediately caught people’s attention since it brings him very close to the magical $100 million number that is near impossible for defensive players to reach.

Pro Football Talk has some of the initial details of the contract which tells us much more about it. According to PFT, McCoy will received $14.757 in fully guaranteed salary upon signing the contract. The next guarantee kicks in a few days following the Super Bowl (which I believe they have the date incorrect on and it’s the 2015 and not 2016 waiver period) and increases the full guarantee to $32.257 million. Following the start of the 2016 League Year the final portion of the guarantees will vest to reach the $51.5 million reported figure.

Now I’m not sure when I can verify the full contract details (or when someone else will)  but I think we can make a few assumptions based on the PFT report and our general knowledge of the cap. McCoy still had  $7,489,561 in salary remaining this season which will be rolled into the guarantee that Is reported. That should mean that the Buccaneers increased his salary by about $7.267 million to reach his reported guarantee. I’d say there is a very good chance his effective salary for this year is now $20 million. That should make his 2015 salary $17.5 million.

The next thing that immediately jumps out at me is the reported structure. JJ Watt recently signed a contract with the Texans that had a guarantee structure that I think was the model for this contact. Watt had a very large 2015 salary fully vest the 5th day of the waiver period and then in 2016 both his 2016 and 2017 base salaries fully vested on the 5th day of the 2016 League Year. Sound familiar?  We still have $19.243 million in guarantees to account for and it would seem likely that these will split over the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Those numbers fit in with both the general way that the Buccaneers structure contracts as well as the cash flows around the position. If they paid out all that money by 2016 he would have received a better contract that Watt on the front end, which I can’t imagine happening.

The Buccaneers deal in all cash contracts, but from the sounds of the raise he will receive this year they will need to use a small signing bonus to fit under the salary cap. My estimates had Tampa Bay with just over $6 million in space entering the weekend, so a $7.3 million raise is not going to fit. A few years ago they did include a signing bonus for tackle Donald Penn and I would look for a similar bonus between $2 and $2.5 million to make the numbers work with the cap this season.

I would imagine Tampa Bay is looking at salary cap hits of $20.4M in 2014, $20.6M in 2015, and then just $10.1M in 2016 and 2017. Those numbers would equate to new money totals of $24.75M, $34.3M, and $44M over the first three contract years. Those numbers would far exceed Geno Atkins $36 million over 3 years and put him on par with Haloti Ngata’s $44 million over three years, but with a far less player friendly contract structure.

How is a deal like this likely agreed to?  I think you simply look at the current contract of McCoy. McCoy had a tremendous amount of contract leverage based on the franchise tag. Because his salary cap number was so high, his tag number in 2015 would be $18,392,704 and in 2016 would be $22,071,244. While the Buccaneers can deal with big numbers because they will rarely, if ever, use a signing bonus upon the initial execution of the contract, those are still extremely high numbers. For McCoy, though, there is no injury protection in that process so he has a risk as well. Here is how the two situations play out in terms of cumulative cash flows (assuming our estimates on the payouts are correct):

YearTagNew ContractDifference

It is essentially a compromise. McCoy will earn around and additional $6.4 million plus have injury protection to continue to audition for the extra money in his contract. The Bucs get to save about $6 million total if they “invoke the option” to have McCoy on the roster in 2016. That should make both sides very happy but it is certainly not the overwhelming windfall that some are making it out to be. Its simply a fair contract in the context of an original contract for a very good player.

Now attention will turn to Ndamukong Suh and what this means for him.  Both are comparable players in almost every metric other than notoriety and $13.6 million a year and contract control into the next decade is a far cry from what Suh was reportedly seeking. McCoy was already playing on a contract that averaged about $11.5 million a year so its not as massive a raise as it sounds initially. I would guess this puts Suh in the $14 million a year range.

Is either contract worth it for a defensive tackle?  Probably not. It is difficult to out-produce Atkins who is on a far more team friendly contract for a number of reasons. At this point the Ravens would love to get out from under the Ngata contract and put it under more reasonable terms because the value is simply not there.

For Tampa Bay, who has not really been a competitive team for years, it may be difficult to match the peak performance of McCoy with the rest of the team. They will be helped based on what should be a team friendly contract with limited prorated money. Tampa should still have a great deal of cap room to spend in the offseason so I would expect more free agent splashes to try to make it all work.



NFL Stock Up: Week 6


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Stock Up

Cam Newton– I’ve been hard on Newton this year but he has not put together two very solid games and this past Sunday put together probably his most dominating performance since his rookie season. Newton looked like the guy the Panthers drafted for the first time in ages, throwing for 280+ yards and adding another 107 on the ground.  He was a one man show against what was supposed to be a dominant defense.

Jordan Cameron– Cameron has been injured most of the season, but exploded against the Steelers to the tune of 102 yards on just three receptions. The Browns look to have a nice young core of talent and loads of cap space much of which should go towards extending the young tight end before his drives his asking price higher.

Ndamukong Suh– The Lions are having a great year on defense and Suh is a major part of why that is the case. With the Buccaneers struggling Suh has seemingly locked down the best available defensive tackle award from Gerald McCoy. With two more sacks on Sunday Suh is pretty much hammering home that he is worth whatever outlandish price he wants.


New Contract Player Of The Week

Jay Cutler– Another player I am usually negative on, Cutler went into a hostile environment in what was essentially a must win game and had his most complete game of the season. The Bears will need more of this in the future if they want to stay in the race through week 17.


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.




Ndamukong Suh Has A Tremendous Amount of Contract Leverage


Jay Z proved his worth in the agency industry when he broke the bank for his client Robinson Cano a few months back. He’s now in a great position to do the same on the gridiron with his newest client:  Lions DT Ndamukong Suh. 

The Lions released Wide Receiver Nate Burleson and Safety Louis Delmas earlier today, gaining $11.08 million in cap space in the process. This was an essential move for the Lions. Not only were they over the projected 2014 cap before these releases, but they also intend to sign Suh—who will become a free agent after the 2014 season (his 2015 contract voids 5 days after the Super Bowl)—to a long-term extension.

Jay Z and his newly founded Roc Nation Sports have inherited an excellent negotiating position.  Because Suh restructured his contract each of the past two offseasons, his current 2014 cap hit is $22,412,500. But more importantly, because his 2015 contract automatically voids, the Lions will be left with a $9,737,500 dead money hit if Suh decides to leave via 2015 free agency.

So what does this all mean? It means that whoever is negotiating this contract on Suh’s behalf (Darren Heitner of Forbes and Sports Agent Blog noted yesterday that because Jay Z isn’t currently certified as an NFLPA Contract Advisor, either agent Kimberly Ann Miale or reps from CAA will be handling the on-field negotiations) will have a tremendous amount of leverage in the upcoming negotiations.

Suh is already the NFLs highest paid DT from his rookie deal, so the amount of money that his reps will attempt to secure is anybody’s guess. Factor in his monstrous 2014 cap hit and the inevitable dead money that the Lions will have to eat if they let him walk, and this all adds up to Suh setting a new salary precedent for DTs.

As  I’ve mentioned before, Lions GM Martin Mayhew is on thin ice in Detroit. He’ll likely be out as GM if Detroit doesn’t make the playoffs in 2014, so he probably isn’t thinking about the long-term implications of his moves and the cap mess that they might leave behind.

Suh just turned 27 years old last month, and should have multiple years left in his prime. With all the leverage his camp has, be prepared to see Suh receive a massive annual salary (greater than his current $12.94 million per year), as well as a colossal signing bonus (my guess is that it will be around $25 million).

Andrew Cohen

Best & Worst Contracts: The Detroit Lions


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

dominic raiolaBest Contract: Dominic Raiola

I have had a difficult time coming up with names on some teams, but none more difficult that the Lions (though I have a feeling the Panthers will prove even harder). From a cap standpoint it is really hard for me to find a bright light for this team. Outside of the rookie contracts there just is not much good on the team. They have overvalued so many players relative to their skill level and for those valued well the contract structures have become a mess.

So why Raiola?  Of all the guys on lower level deals he is at least a proven commodity. He has been in the NFL forever and gives the Lions a steady force on their offensive line. Plus the Lions went in and slashed his pay for the year dropping his salary from over $4 million to $1 million. Due to prior prorated money he will still carry a cap charge that is about middle of the pack in the NFL, but he will play every snap and give Matt Stafford a familiar person to work with as Stafford tries to improve on last season.

That doesn’t mean the Lions got it totally right with Raiola. Had they released him as a procedural move and then re-signed him he would have qualified for the Minimum Salary Benefit and saved Detroit around $400,000 in cap space while allowing him to earn the same cash compensation.

ndamukong suhWorst Contract: Ndamukong Suh

Trust me I understand that the old CBA dictated Suh’s salary and to some extent his contract structure. What the old CBA did not dictate was multiple restructures that will cripple a teams salary cap well beyond the terms of the original contract. When you are a team that is in salary cap trouble as the Lions have been and continue to be, tough decisions are necessary. You either need to release players for cap relief or begin to restructure contracts to keep your team intact.

However, when you select option B you have to use the restructure on either older players that you won’t re-sign or younger players where the restructure will not completely cripple your negotiations. The Lions were always going to re-sign Matt Stafford. While the restructures did them no favors his cap numbers were still within the QB market plus its a high priced position to begin with. Stafford has the upside to be a top 5 QB which means you have a chance at a Super Bowl if he realizes the upside. Suh presents a different case.

Suh does not play at a high priced position. Suh does not play at a game changing position. Suh is not the best DT in the NFL and likely never will be. Even after multiple restructures Suh’s cap hit this season is 3rd in the NFL. Next season, his final under contract, it jumps to over $21 million.  That is $8 million more than the next highest player and almost $5 million more than the Cleveland Browns entire spending on DT’s in 2014. The Browns have the 2nd largest spend at the position in the NFL to the Lions.

The Defensive Tackle market maxes out around $9 million a year unless Geno Atkins, the best in the league, signs for more money with the Bengals. Suh should maybe earn a maximum of $8 million, but the handling of his contract has completely compromised the Lions position. The cost of releasing Suh next season is nearly $20 million dollars. The cost of letting Suh become a free agent in 2015 is $9.7 million dollars. Those numbers are the fault of the Lions managerial decisions not the CBA. Gerald McCoy, another high pick DT, will only carry $5.2 million in dead money if cut in his last contract year, $14 million or so less than Suh.

What leverage do you have at this point?  He is due to earn over $11 million and why should he give the Lions any discount. They can’t threaten to cut him. They can’t even threaten to let him play it out. The costs of him playing his contract out and not extending him is not workable. They have backed themselves into a corner to where Suh will likely be the highest paid DT in the NFL because the Lions have no other options. They had those options open to them before and can only blame themselves for whatever dollars they are forced to pay in the future.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersSan Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas CowboysNew York GiantsPhiladelphia EaglesWashington Redskins

NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers (July 19)