In light of his latest suspension, is Ndamukong Suh worth the trouble?
The NFL suspended Suh one game for stepping on Aaron Rodgers' leg Sunday, meaning that the linchpin of Detroit's top-ranked rush defense will miss (pending appeal) a wild-card round matchup with Dallas and RB DeMarco Murray.
"You did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground," NFL VP of Football Operations Merton Hanks said in a letter to Suh announcing the suspension. "This illegal contact, specifically the second step and push off with your left foot, clearly could have been avoided. You unnecessarily stepped on your opponent’s unprotected leg as he lay on the ground unable to protect himself."
Without stepping inside Suh's head, some of Hanks' conclusions are up for debate. Trying to decipher Suh's intent as compared to "someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another played" is a tall task based on replays.
Suh, though, has not left himself any gray area in these matters. Asking for the benefit of the doubt banks on those in the league office still having any doubt about Suh's actions in these cases, and the Lions' defensive tackle may have crossed that bridge long ago. He has been fined seven times during his NFL career and was hit with a two-game suspension for his infamous stomp on Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith.
"There's an old adage that you prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday when asked if he thought Suh would be suspended for the playoffs.
He may as well have been talking about the entire Ndamukong Suh experience. There may not be a more dominant defensive tackle in football today -- Suh was just named to his fourth Pro Bowl in five seasons -- but rarely is the ride a smooth one. Suh recorded 8.5 sacks this season, his most since his rookie year of 2009; he also led the Lions in penalties with 10.
Now, unless he can talk his way out of this punishment, he'll sit for just the second Lions playoff game since 2000.
This could be how Suh's Lions career comes to a close. The two sides did not reach a contract extension prior to the season, and Detroit will have to break the bank to keep him. Even if Suh signs elsewhere, he will count $9.7 million against the Lions' 2015 cap because of previous contract restructurings. A potential franchise tag would add another $27 million or so.
Plenty of teams will come calling if Suh makes it to the open market. Getting from Point A to Point B and justifying a lucrative contract for him will be another matter.
All of these on-field hiccups now linger on Suh's résumé and reputation, enough to create some second-guessing when it comes to his future. Can a team trust him to keep it together over the long haul? How much more will the NFL tolerate before it really drops the hammer with an extended suspension?
Suh's talent often overrides most of the headaches, from his tendency to cross the line on Sundays to his notoriously standoffish behavior with the media. Whether or not that continues to be the case may depend on where Suh lands in 2015, and how forgiving the front office is there.
In the interim, Suh has created a world of trouble for his current team, which already is without injured defensive tackle Nick Fairley. So, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will have to mix and match up front -- Andre Fluellen, C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid -- in what might be a fruitless attempt to match up against Dallas' sensational offensive line.
Whether you side with the NFL's analysis of the Suh-Rodgers incident or believe that it truly was an accident, Suh again found himself in a questionable situation, this time while well-aware of how high the stakes are for his team.
His play will be worthy of the contract that's to come, almost no matter the price. Suh's judgment continues to make it more and more difficult, though, to maintain that argument.