Ndamukong Suh is a really good football player. Let’s just get that out of the way.
But as Suh and the Detroit Lions table contract negotiations for now until the end of the 2014 season, allow me to caution the organization not to rush to break the bank to keep Suh in Motown.
In four NFL seasons, Suh has 135 tackles and 27.5 sacks which led to three Pro Bowl selections. There’s no doubting he is one of the most ferocious defensive linemen in the game and commands the attention of opposing blockers. In other words, the type of player coaches must account for in game planning and quarterbacks must locate before taking the snap.
Allowing contract talks to simmer down for the next few months is a terrific idea, though, because this year Suh not only has to produce again on the field but show he can continue to maintain that strong character he’s failed to do in the past.
Suh is owed $12.5 million in salary this season, and already owns the wealthiest contract in the NFL among defensive tackles. Geno Atkins, who signed a six-year, $56.423 million deal in September of last year, set the market value for the position at about $9 million per year.
Paying Suh is going to be an extremely costly move, as he’ll become the Lions’ second-highest paid player other than quarterback Matthew Stafford. And unlike Stafford or Calvin Johnson, there’s still doubt surrounding Suh.
The character issues are undeniable. Suh began the 2013 season by laying down an illegal block on Vikings center John Sullivan by striking him in the knees. The NFL smacked Suh with a $100,000 fine. On Thanksgiving, he made a throat-slash gesture after a loss to the Buccaneers, a move that was banned by the league 15 years ago.
In 2011, Suh earned a two-game suspension after pushing the head and stomping on the arm of then-Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith. He also kicked former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the you know where. He’s previously been voted the NFL’s dirtiest player, a poll that is voted upon by his colleagues.
While former Lions coach Jim Schwartz may have a part to play in the blame game, it’s still the player that deserves the bulk of it. Suh knows what he’s doing, and it is not the full responsibility of the coach to tell a grown man how to act on the football field.
If a team is preparing to offer a player a deal worth almost $60 million, there should not be any hesitation whether that player could be suspended the next time he takes the field.
New Lions coach Jim Caldwell, a Tony Dungy discipline, could have a major impact on Suh getting his character together. And if Suh really wants to earn that paycheck and remain in Detroit, he’ll have to listen to his coach and really put an effort into developing into a more mature player.
There’s no doubting Suh’s skills on the gridiron. Any team would likely be willing to bring him on board. But for a player that’ll instantly become one of the top two or three highest-paid players when he gets his new deal, you need to have the assurance he can play with integrity.