The Miami Dolphins landed the biggest free agent prize when they signed Ndamukong Suh to a monster 6-year, $US114 million contract that includes $US60 million in guaranteed money. But while the deal is team-friendly in the first year, it is going to become a nightmare very quickly and will almost certainly need to be restructured before the second year.
Suh’s salary will be just $US985,000 in 2015 according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. He will also receive a $US15,000 workout bonus according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. Those, combined with a prorated portion of his $US25.5 million signing bonus ($US5.1 million) means Suh will count as just $US6.1 million against the Dolphins’ cap this season, a modest amount for a star player.
For comparison, Suh will still take up $US9.7 million in cap space for the Detroit Lions this season because of his old contract.
But Suh’s contract will quickly take a turn for the worse in 2016 when his salary is fully guaranteed and jumps to $US23.5 million. That means his cap hit in year-2 of the contract will be $US28.6 million. Just as the first year salary cap number is modest for a star player, this one is astronomical.
It is unknown how big the salary cap will be in 2016, but if Suh had a salary cap figure of $US28.6 million, he would take up 18.8% of the Dolphins’ cap space all by himself.
The Dolphins are either going to have to bite the bullet in 2016 and go one season with a horrible salary cap situation or they are going to have to restructure Suh’s deal.
Florio speculated that the salary in 2016 could be reduced to $US1 million with the rest being converted to a bonus. If that were to happen, Suh’s cap hit would drop from $US28.6 million to $US10.6 million. The downside is that the difference would then be spread out over the 2017-20 seasons and the Dolphins would be facing another terrible situation in 2018 and 2019.
In other words, Suh’s contract after the 2015 season is mostly for show and will almost certainly look different before the 2016 season starts. The same thing will likely happen again down the road, either before the 2017 season or the 2018 season.
Eventually, the Dolphins are going to have to pay the piper and the cap hit is going to become too big and there won’t be enough years left to fix it. On top of that, only the first three seasons of the contract come with guaranteed salaries.
The good news for Suh is that the way salary cap figures work, the Dolphins almost certainly can’t cut him before the 2018 season, especially with a restructured contract. The savings, cap-wise, would be minimal. But things start to change in 2019 and 2020.
The Dolphins landed one of the best defensive players in the NFL and they will probably have him for the next four years. But after that, things are going to get messy and the Dolphins will either have an ageing player taking up a lot of cap space or they are going to have an ex-player who is still taking up a lot of their salary cap, just not as much.
Either way, it is going to be a nightmare eventually.
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