By: Eric Thomas
Trying to figure out Ndamukong Suh has become, itself, a full time job.
He entered the league as one of the good guys. He already earmarked a massive portion (2.6 million) of his guaranteed charity to his alma mater, UNL, so that they could give students somewhere to train and—presumably—something to do while in Nebraska. He donated $250,000 to his high school. His renown was as a plain spoken, humble giant with immense talent and a smile that you could take home to mom. He drew comparisons to Reggie White. Subway let him make commercials.
After his rookie year, Ndamukong Suh was a penalty drawing, alleged drunk driving, stomping, unmentionable kicking, a league – hated monster with an inability to play the game without causing serious and possibly permanent injury to the other people on the field. His renown became a media-shunning, rampaging beast who doesn’t care at all about your mom. He drew comparisons to Galactus. He made less commercials.
In the time before his fourth season with the Lions, he renegotiated his contract, giving the Lions more cap room, more or less bringing the Lions’ Reggie Bush. He became the captain of the defense. He had his best season since his rookie campaign. He had his share of penalties, but they weren’t all that costly. He looked like a matured man in toward the end of the season, anchoring a defense that looked better than the offense, but so does HPV when compared to the Lions’ offense in the second half of 2013.
As the dawn broke on the 2014 off-season, there were rumblings of progress between the front office and Suh. There was a crack of light: Martin Mayhew announced that there was a mutual interest in reaching a deal with the Lions’ oft criticized All-Pro defensive tackle.
“With what money?!” said many Lions observers, because despite the Lions’ calamitous crash in 2013, the Lions are perilously close to the salary cap ceiling.
The Lions can’t time anything right. When the team was at its nadir—which is a word that means something’s lowest point, although there wasn’t really a point for the Lions, the bottom kind of plateaued for a few years, which I guess is a canyon—the NFL hadn’t changed its policy toward rookie contracts. They never got Suh or Stafford or Calvin on the cheap, like Carolina did with Cam Newton or the Colts did with Andrew Luck or Seattle, who can spend on every other position because Russell Wilson plays for a bag of change (NFL speaking). The Lions have failed at so many things in the past several decades; it almost stands to reason that they failed at failing. Suh is a player selected during that era.
Now comes the news yesterday that Suh fired his longtime agents, Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker of Relativity Sports. What does that mean? Your guess is as good as ours. It could mean that Suh balked at an offer from the Lions and told them to pound sand. It could be—how could this be true?—Suh felt like his representatives were being too harsh with the Lions and he bounced them so he could find management that might be more amenable to making a deal that the Lions could swallow. Even as I type this, I wonder how it could possibly be the latter? Even if Suh was the egalitarian man who donated large swaths of his contract to his college and high school, why would anyone simply walk away from available money out of the milk of human kindness? It would be unreasonable for any fan to expect Suh to eschew money for loyalty. It’s not like the Lions would keep him on the payroll if he were suddenly unable to play football. No player has any idea how long they can play football; any down could be your last. Players have to get as much money as they can when they can get it because the clock is ticking. There’s no senior tour.
Suh is an elite DT in the NFL, but there isn’t any reason to keep him around if he’s looking for a raise. The Lions are saddled with Suh’s massive contract because he was paid not just as a defensive tackle, but the second overall player selected in the draft. It’s murky as to if Suh would command such a sum on the open market. Defensive tackles aren’t usually break-the-Brinks truck type of acquisitions. It’s entirely possible that Suh could end up with less money if he hits the open market, especially with his past proclivity toward mental mistakes and penalties. The Lions are turning the page with Jim Caldwell, and they have a relatively high draft pick where they can pick up another decent DT in the second round. For Suh’s price tag, for the position he plays, if he has fired his representatives in order to execute a money grab, it might be time to let the man go.
Though I would miss the Ford Field fans screaming “SUUUUUHHH” when the offense is on the field.