The Miami Dolphins weren’t afraid to make a big splash for Ndamukong Suh when they signed him to a historic deal back in 2015. Would they be afraid to walk away now?
Dolphin owner Stephen Ross would have to eat more than $22 million in dead cap if Miami cut Suh outright. Finding a trade partner for a guy with three years left on a monster deal could be nearly impossible.
Suh is due nearly $17 million in 2018 and more than $18 million in 2019 and 2020. Yet, two essential factors conspire to work against Suh remaining in South Beach.
The first is financial: Cutting him would save the Dolphins those enormous sums the next three seasons, even if it means eating the dead cap cost as well. Miami projects to be more than $8 million over the cap and has to shed money at the top.
No one is higher on the Dolphins’ balance sheet than Suh, and he simply isn’t producing at a level worthy of that money. If this were Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt, general manager Mike Tannenbaum could justify spending all that money on an interior defensive lineman, but Suh isn’t that guy anymore.
That said, Tannenbaum was around in 2015 when the Dolphins signed Suh in the first place, so he may not want to admit defeat here.
Now we arrive at the second point: The Dolphins appear to be in rebuild mode.
Franchising Jarvis Landry appears to be a way to keep his rights long enough to trade him. Miami is reportedly shopping in this draft for a quarterback and has been linked to Baker Mayfield.
The Dolphins could cut Ryan Tannehill this offseason and incur minimal financial penalties (just $4.6 million in dead cap), but finding a team willing to trade for him seems like a better route.
Either way, that could clear nearly $20 million from the cap and get the Dolphins under the threshold.
From a financial standpoint, that makes the most sense as a way to clear space: Move the second-most expensive asset at a position the team wants to change in the first place.
If the Dolphins are going full-rebuild, perhaps Suh, who hasn’t left his temper in Miami and continues to do one or two boneheaded things every year, isn’t the best fit on a young team.
Grabbing Ryan Mallett by the throat in the fall doesn’t portend well for a team interested in a firecracker personality like Baker Mayfield. There’s a difference between going after the opponent and your own quarterback, but it’s hard to imagine Suh’s volatility would mesh well with Mayfield’s outspoken, swaggering persona.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, there’s an echo of the Joe Flacco contract here: The Suh contract wasn’t a great deal when it was signed, it gets worse every year, and the team can’t move off it until it’s nearly over.
Luckily for Miami, Suh doesn’t play quarterback and can still produce big plays as a defensive tackle. If Miami wanted to keep him through the rebuild, it certainly could — and it likely makes the most financial sense to do so.
After the 2019 season, the Tannenbaum could then cut him with just $4 million in dead cap money, the logical move given the circumstances.
In some ways, the rebuild works in Suh’s favor because it requires the Dolphins to divorce big-money players such as Tannehill and Landry even without accounting for Suh.
Miami, if it successfully moves those two guys, wouldn’t have to touch Suh’s deal to not only get under the cap, but have room to improve the roster.
Unless the Dolphins believe Suh to be unacceptably toxic to the culture and locker room, there’s not much incentive to dump him at this point.
What does make sense is going to him with a restructure. He’ll never get anywhere near what’s left on his contract in the open market. Asking him to take a pay cut in exchange for guaranteed money makes sense for both sides. Even if Suh wants out, he’d need to rework that contract to make it palatable for any potential trade partner.
If Miami decides to cut Suh, we’ll know for sure the Dolphins believed he was such a big problem, they were willing to take a major hit financially. Such a move could depress Suh’s value on the open market as well, which is why the smart play would be for him to take a pay cut with the Dolphins whether he wants to stay or not.
Could the Dolphins simply eat the money and move on? Sure they could. But the more sensible solution would be to rework the contract and either keep him or trade him. That said, the odds of him being on the Dolphins’ roster at his current contract numbers feels like a long shot.