Ndamukong Suh is a controversial and polarizing figure. The Detroit defensive tackle is one of the most talented players in the entire league. Suh finished second in defensive tackle ratings by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and he's consistently among the most disruptive defensive presences in the NFL.
He's also one of the most reviled, as he topped The Sporting News' player polling for dirtiest player in the league two years in a row.
The negatives have led some, notably Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, to call for trading Suh instead of giving him a contract extension.
While that would certainly free up a bevy of much-desired cap room, it would be, to quote Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, a huge mistake.
Instead of trading Suh to gain cap relief, the smarter move is to sign him to a contract extension.
The Nebraska graduate is entering what is the de facto final year of his contract. While the paper obligation does technically extend through the 2015 season, Suh's deal automatically voids five days after the next Super Bowl according to Spotrac.
His current contract is a cap-eating monster. The base salary is $12.55 million, while bonuses amortized over the life of the contract add another $9.86 million.
If Suh plays 2014 under that deal, his salary cap hit is $22.41 million. Given that the cap projects to just $126 million per team, Suh is taking up almost 18 percent of Detroit's cap space by himself.
That's simply not a tenable figure. And because the Lions would be a significantly lesser team without him, they really have no choice but to sign him to an extension.
Before they can sign any free agents, they must free up cap space. If the Lions have designs on bringing back Brandon Pettigrew, Willie Young or Rashean Mathis, all 2013 starters who are now free agents, getting Suh a new deal has to get done first.
Detroit just re-signed veteran center Dominic Raiola, as first reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. While that shores up the center position for another year, it further eats into any available cash needed for other free agents.
In short, Suh must get a new deal.
He's ready to deal, as evidenced by his recent change in agents:
So are the Lions. Team president Tom Lewand indicated as much during a press conference last week, as reported by MLive's Kyle Meinke:
We have tremendous respect for Ndamukong. We've expressed to him an interest in him being here, and he's expressed an interest in staying here
The new contract will not be cheap. Here are some of the contracts of other top-shelf defensive tackles:
|Defensive Tackles Salaries|
|Player||Years||Total Value||Guaranteed Money||Signing Bonus|
|Spotrac, values in millions|
Suh's new deal will top that list. It's really not that scary, however.
Atkins signed his contract last offseason, and it reflects the trend of starting contracts with lower bonuses. That effectually produces lower cap hits, especially early in the deal; Atkins counted just $7.11 million against the Bengals' cap in 2013.
Let's say Suh signs for five years and $60 million total, with $18 million guaranteed and a $16 million signing bonus. By putting the big salary figures in the final two years of the contract and keeping the bonuses and guarantees lower, the Lions could finagle a cap hit of less than $9 million for Suh in 2014.
That's at least $13 million that can be used elsewhere. Some of that will almost certainly go to restricted free-agent running back Joique Bell.
It's worth noting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the exact same contractual state with their own star defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy. The player to sign first will likely get a slightly lower contract as a simple case of one-upping a friendly rival.
The Buccaneers have a lot more cap room to play with, however, which provides further impetus for the Lions to show Jay-Z the blueprint of a new contract before Tampa Bay gets one done.
Before the Detroit Lions can do any free-agent shopping, they have to sign Ndamukong Suh to a new deal.