The Cincinnati Bengals are not known to be big spenders in free agency. They aren't known for giving triple-digit million-dollar contracts to anyone, especially veterans from the outside. Team owner Mike Brown is notably frugal—even notoriously so.
So why should we bother entertaining the idea that Brown and the Bengals could make a move for one of the biggest-ticket soon-to-be free agents in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?
Because it would be a perfect fit, though it takes a few assumptions to get to that point.
It's no secret that the Bengals' biggest weakness in 2014 was the pass rush, which generated a league-low 20 sacks in the regular season.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther pulled few punches when discussing that aspect of the defense when he met with the media at the end of the season, saying, "We got to improve the younger players in the rush and we have to look in the draft or free agency to get some fresh talent in here, for sure. We need to infuse the D-line because we've got to get better at rushing the passer—period."
Meanwhile, Suh has been one of the most dominant players at his position since being drafted by the Detroit Lions with the second-overall pick of the 2010 draft.
|Ndamukong Suh, 2010-2014|
Suh had 36 sacks over his five years in Detroit, along with 181 total tackles and 60 assisted tackles. He was Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) third-ranked defensive tackle for 2014; he ranked second in 2013, fourth in 2012, 43rd in 2011 and 32nd in his rookie year. He's only gotten better as his bank of experience grows.
However, this production will come at a high price for the Bengals or any would-be suitors when free agency begins in March. Suh is coming off of a rookie contract that paid him $64.5 million. This year's contract should be much higher.
There are a few conservative figures out there for any potential Suh contract. Spotrac figures that Suh's actual contract value should be five years and in the range of $46 and $58 million, with anywhere from $22 million to $33 million of that guaranteed money.
However, NFL.com's Chris Wesseling reported in November that, on the heels of J.J. Watt's six-year, $100 million extension with the Houston Texans, Suh's next deal should command him even more money. Granted, $100 million contracts can break down myriad ways—just look to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's deal as an example. But that kind of investment might prove to be too rich for Brown and the Bengals.
As Cincy Jungle's Josh Kirkendall points out, the Bengals already have 18.15 percent of their 2015 salary cap committed to just the defensive line alone, and the four defensive tackles take up 9.74 percent of their total cap spending. Bringing Suh on board would increase those percentages exponentially. That would be an extraordinary amount of money for any team to spend on its defensive line.
Still, Suh would provide an instant boost to the Bengals' languishing defensive line—both the pass rush and in stopping the run, which Football Outsiders ranked 27th in 2014. And with the Bengals having few voids across all other personnel groups, spending big for Suh wouldn't be at the expense of other areas of need. The Bengals could also use multiple draft picks on the defensive line and develop inexpensive starters to complement and, later, replace Suh.
Because of this, Suh's contract could be structured to pay him more in the first few years and allow the Bengals financial protection in the latter ones, much like with Dalton. This could also provide the Bengals insurance against Suh taking his foot off the gas pedal in response to getting a high-value deal.
Based on the Bengals' current financial situation, the team will have $9.6 million in carry-over cap room from 2014, along with about $30 million in additional 2015 cap space. The Bengals also do not have many high-priority or high-priced in-house free agents to pay this year, though they could opt to extend the contracts of wide receiver A.J. Green, offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith or safety Reggie Nelson before they reach free-agent status in 2016.
With so many free agents looming in 2016, it is quite possible that they reserve their cash to pay them rather than make a splash on the first day of the new league year by signing Suh. That may prove to be the wisest move in order to remain competitive in the longer term.
However, if the Bengals want to make a concerted push toward a Super Bowl in 2015, then the addition of Suh would go a long way to advance that mission. Suh would certainly fill a notable void in the Bengals defense and bring an edge that was lacking on the team in 2014.
Sometimes a team needs to make an aggressive move in order to get to the next level. The Bengals have been good, and even great, in their last four seasons, which all ended with postseason berths. But they have yet to win a playoff game. If it's the defensive line that is holding them back, then making an uncharacteristic move in free agency to sign an expensive talent like Suh could be just what they need.
There are times when breaking from tradition pays off. For that reason, the Bengals and Brown should open the wallet and make an offer for Suh should he reach free agency.