By: Eric Thomas
Ndamukong Suh has said many times before that his focus is on the team and not him personally. If that’s his aim, he has certainly failed this off-season.
The Lions announced that they’ve broken off contract extension talks with Suh’s agent until after the 2014 season. There’s been considerable hand-wringing amongst the sports media chattering class, as if Suh’s departure would represent a sea change for the Lions. When coupled with the team’s decision to pass on next year’s option on Nick Fairley, a few have called for a full Lions rebuild in 2015.
Suh is absolutely the best defensive player in Detroit, and that’s kind of the problem. He plays DT, a position where he can wreak absolute havoc on opposing offenses, but too often limited by creative blocking schemes. Suh moves the pocket, and that’s his job. He makes quarterbacks nervous; again, his job.
He does his job very well, but every quarterback playing the Lions is only one completion away from a touchdown regardless of where they are on the field. This isn’t Suh’s fault, no single defensive player can be responsible for every play, and once the ball gets behind Suh there is little he can do. He’s a great player limited by the realities of the position he plays. Because of his cap number, a sum which he deserves, he limits the Lions ability to make moves to improve the rest of the defense.
Nick Fairley has been an absolute bust at this point in his career. He enters camp again looking lean and mean, but he’s done that before. Let’s wait until the first week before anyone gets excited. His belly button will likely show through his uniform again mid-season. The Lions didn’t pick up his option next year hoping it would motivate him. If he does well this season, and the Lions re-sign him, his motivation would disappear the minute his name dries on the contract. They’d be crazy to offer Fairley another deal.
We were all so excited about these two. “Who are you going to double team!?” was the mantra in the spring and summer of 2011. The Lions terrible twosome in the middle never lived up to their billing. Fairley couldn’t stay healthy; he couldn’t even stay in shape. He spent most Sundays gasping for breath on the sidelines. Fact to make you sick: the Seahawks drafted Richard Sherman the same year the Lions drafted Suh.
The Lions built their defensive identity around Suh. He’s a monster on the field, playing like a man possessed, committing countless after the whistle penalties and racking up fines from the league office in New York. Lions fans swelled with pride at the sight of Suh, a modern day Dick Butkus who might just bite your finger if it gets too close.
The problem is that Dick Butkus and Joe Greene couldn’t play in today’s NFL. The style of play practiced by the monsters has been outlawed. Suh found himself in the crosshairs of tough questions, and he never seemed at ease. He adjusted last year, but the damage was done. The NFL more or less created a department to analyze game film and fine Suh when they found him doing something wrong. Flags flew on offense and defense and the Lions never got the benefit of the doubt. Referees landed in town for Lions games with the understanding they’d be getting a lot of TV time.
If Fairley and Suh are in their last year with the Lions, it’s a good thing. You’ve heard the word “accountability” coming out of Allen Park on a regular basis, as the new coaching staff seeks to erase the problems of the previous administration. The Lions can re-stock their defense with different talent, hopefully looking for a linebacker to replace Steven Tulloch in the coming years or (gasp) maybe finally address the defensive secondary.
Parting with Fairley and Suh isn’t a detriment for the Lions, it’s an opportunity. The Lions will definitely miss Suh, but it’s the step they need to take at the time being.