The Miami Dolphins are about to sign one of the top defensive players in the NFL and one of the top free agents as Ndamukong Suh has agreed to a $US114 million contract with $US60 million guaranteed according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.
Landing Suh is a huge win for the Dolphins but it is also a huge disaster for Suh’s former team, the Detroit Lions, and they have only themselves to blame.
Prior to becoming a free agent, the Lions had the option of placing the “franchise tag” on Suh, which would have kept the defensive tackle in Detroit for at least one more season. The franchise tag can be used by a team on one player each year and binds that player to the team for one more season at a salary that guarantees they are one of the highest-paid players at their position.
However, the Lions screwed themselves and made it nearly impossible to give Suh the franchise tag when they restructured his rookie contract prior to both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
By converting a big chunk of his salaries for those seasons into bonuses ($US8.7 million of his $US9.3 million salary in 2012 and $US11.5 million of his $US12.2 million salary in 2013), the Lions cleared up space under the salary cap. The downside is the money saved on the salary caps those seasons were pushed to the end of Suh’s contract. His salary cap figure for the 2014 season grew to $US22.4 million, the largest in the NFL that year, even though his salary was a far-more reasonable $US12.6 million.
When a team places a franchise tag on a player, they must either pay him the average of the five highest-paid players at that position or give him a salary that is 20% higher than his salary cap figure from the year before, whichever is higher. Because Suh’s salary cap figure in 2014 was so absurd, the Lions would have been forced to pay him $US26.9 million in 2015.
Suh is good, but nobody is that good.
And here is the kicker. As David Birkett of the Detroit Free Press explains, the Lions were still going to be charged $US9.7 million against the salary cap in 2015 for Suh’s old contract. That means about $US36.6 million, or about 25%, of the Lions’ 2015 salary cap would have been taken up by Suh’s contracts alone.
If Suh’s contract had never been restructured, his salary cap figure in 2014 would have been just $US16.1 million. That would have made Suh’s franchise tag salary much more reasonable (~$US19.3 million) and Suh would almost certainly still be with the Lions for the 2015 season.
Instead, the Lions took a terrible gamble in 2012 and 2013 and now Suh has taken his talents to South Beach.
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