- He won’t be the highest-paid defensive player in the game this time around, but Suh remains durable, potent against the run and the pass, and versatile all along the defensive line. Plenty of 4-3 teams—including, yes, the Browns—have a desperate need for what he provides, and the cap space to sign him
We can spiritedly debate whether Ndamukong Suh, who cost the Dolphins more than $60 million in cash over three years, was a worthwhile investment. But of more immediate importance is what Suh, 31, will cost his next suitor.
Last March the market for veteran defensive tackles was deep, diminishing many free agents’ value. It’s deep again this year, but less attractive near the top. Considering that ex-Jets Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson come with the type of off-field baggage that must be checked, not carried on, and that 27-year-old ex-Chief/Falcon Dontari Poe will be seen by some as almost purely a first- and second-down player, Suh’s competition for top defensive tackle billing is Star Lotulelei, the 28-year-old ex-Panther.
As run defenders, Suh and Lotulelei are similar. Both hail from one-gap 4-3 schemes, where they were destructive run penetrators, and both are strong enough to anchor against, and shed, double-team run-blocks.
Working in Lotulelei’s favor is that he’s three years younger than Suh and has played just 55 to 60 percent of Carolina’s snaps. In Miami, Suh played roughly 85 percent of the snaps—most among all NFL defensive linemen. In the minds of some, that makes Suh more durable, but given his age, in the minds of others it makes him more likely to hit a wall.
The reason Suh played more than Lotulelei is the same reason he could garner more interest in free agency, even at 31: He is the better pass rusher. Suh’s total of 15.5 sacks over the last three years ranks seventh among pure defensive tackles. (Lotulelei had just 6.5 sacks in that span.)
More importantly, Suh is versatile on passing downs. On top of 3-technique, he has significant experience aligning at defensive end, standup joker and nose-shade. Suh plays from a narrow stance, which gives him initial burst but can leave him vulnerable to angle blocks. Despite this, he is supremely adept on stunts and twists, which 4-3 defenses rely on in lieu of blitzing. Few players are as selfless and effective at setting up sack opportunities for others on designer pass rush tactics. Suh can make your other pass rushers better.
This year there several true 4-3 teams that have cap space and a dire need along their four-man line: Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Buffalo. Plus, there a few better-stocked 4-3 teams that also have money: Jacksonville, Washington, Seattle, New Orleans and Detroit.
Chances are, Suh will get a lucrative short-term deal – something in the range of two to three years, with good money up front and team options after the first year. A club with less cap space would need to offer multiple years and assume the risk of a bigger signing bonus, which could be prorated into smaller cap-hitting chunks over multiple years. However it’s structured, don’t be surprised if Suh’s next contract is superior, at least in the immediate future, to that of every other free agent defensive tackle.
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