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Ndamukong Suh should stay put

The Lions defensive tackle could be in for a real surprise once free agency rolls around this spring. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White explains why Suh's best option is with his current team.

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Ndamukong Suh will be at the top of the totally imaginary free agent totem pole this offseason. The Detroit Lions appear willing to let Suh test the open market, for now at least. There is the outside possibility that the Lions still could slap the franchise tag on Suh before March 2, but doing so would have their salary cap in shambles as Suh would be due almost $27 million.

That's real cash money not just a cap number. Well it's both, actually.That's what they would pay him and that's what he would take up on the salary cap for 2015. It seems unlikely, but who knows?

Maybe the Lions will tag Suh just so they can continue talks on a long-term contract. If it were me and some team tagged me for that much money, I would break every speed limit between me and the front office to sign on the dotted line before they came to their senses. The Lions can't possibly want one player to take up that much cap space, and by signing the tag, Suh would take away the Lions' ability to rescind it if negotiations didn't go as planned.

Somebody would have to piss or get off the pot, and in a hurry!

The Lions could have that very scenario playing out in the back of their mind as the deadline approaches. And that's what I believe they will do instead of trying to outbid his other suitors on the open market.

Yeah, good luck with that.

I'm all for Suh getting every last cent he can wrangle out of one of these owners. Not only has he earned the right to be in this position with his play on the field and staying out of (too much) trouble off of it, but also because it helps the next guy at his position who comes up for big pay day. Since NFL owners are always talking about precedent to explain away why they won't renegotiate a contract with more than a year left on it, players have to throw precedent back at them when it comes to getting paid every cent they are worth when the time is finally at hand. Whatever the last guy at the position made, you need to make a just li'l more because, you know, precedent! What was good for the goose will be good for the gander.

Having said all that, let me also say this. I personally believe the only place where Suh could possibly sign this offseason and not eventually be labeled overpaid and maybe even a bust is back with the Lions.

Five years later

Do not misunderstand me, Suh is a fantastic player. What he's done for the Lions during the first five years of his career has given them an identity on defense which now has them damn near the best defense in the league. He also has turned in 36 sacks over that same time frame, which is nothing to sneeze at from the defensive tackle position. Now that the Lions have a potential star at defensive end in Ezekiel Ansah to pair with Suh, the sky is the limit for that defensive line if he re-signs with Detroit.

The problem with Suh potentially signing elsewhere would be the change in expectations. Some folks have given him a pass when it comes to the lack of evolution of his pass rush game since he recorded 10 sacks as a rookie. That's not to say he hasn't played well. He has. And he's been dominant at times.

However ...

The one reason I had Gerald McCoy rated higher than Suh going into the 2010 NFL Draft was that I viewed Suh as basically a one trick pony, using his power to dominate offensive linemen with his bull rush but not having much more than that in his toolbox when it came to pass rushing. McCoy on the other hand showed more quick twitch ability getting off the ball in a flash and an ability to win with quickness or power at Oklahoma. I prefer the guy who can get it done with a variety of ways, because sooner or later you will run up against that dude who takes away your first move and you had better have a second, third and maybe even a fourth ready to go.

I knew both guys still had a lot to learn, but I just had a feeling that a guy like Suh, who only needed power rushes to make an impact up to that point in his career, would feel no urgency to change his approach. Five years later and it's clear my hunch was right.

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They're going to catch up to you one day

While preparing to write this, I went back to watch some film on Suh from the regular season. I'd watched a lot of it before but not while focusing exclusively on Suh. During the season I usually take a broader approach when viewing the all-22 getting a big picture view of the action on the field unless something or somebody really stands out. I remembered Ansah standing out a few times, but never Suh.

After watching a few games something in the back of my mind started bugging the shit out of me, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I kept going over what I'd seen and ultimately came back to the fact that I hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary from Suh in those games. That's when the proverbial light bulb went off over my head.

I went back a couple of years to watch Suh's film from 2012. Different head coach, different defensive coordinator, somewhat different scheme, same old Ndamukong Suh. I swear the only difference in the film was that Suh might have looked a little chunkier this year than he did in 2012. Maybe. Otherwise, it was the same guy, and that's a problem for me.

Here's a basic truth every young pass rusher should understand: They are going to catch up to you one day.

Whether it's in year two, year five, or year 15, the offensive linemen always catch up top pass rushers at some point. That is why a top pass rusher has to constantly evolve, even if it's only slightly, so that you can continue to have the upper hand. If you are a speed guy, you eventually have to learn to work some power rushes in to keep your opponents honest. If you are a power guy, you have to work in some finesse moves just so your opponent can't sit down for your power on every play.

Ndamukong Suh evidently does not agree with this sentiment. He came in to the league a bull rusher. He still is a bull rusher, and he's probably only going to be a bull rusher. Considering the fact that the guy is built like a tank and just about as strong as one, this isn't the worst plan in the world, but it damn sure isn't the best either. That's especially true because even now, entering his sixth season, Suh still hasn't developed a reliable way to escape off his bullrush so that he can, you know, sack the quarterback. There are plenty of times where he is absolutely crushing guards and centers who have the fucking temerity to try to block him singled up, but he'll still allow the quarterback to get the ball off because he refuses to do a simple rip (preferred) or arm over (allowed) once he gets to the level of the quarterback so he can sack the sonuvabitch.

Y'all out there that watch film, tell me I'm lying. Go ahead.

I don't give a damn if you are the biggest Suh fan in the world, if you watch film, you know good and well that dude is basically the same guy he was when he came in the league in 2010. And if you're a Lions fan, you know how many times you've grimaced because you watched him absolutely destroy an offensive lineman but still not get the quarterback on the ground because he was reaching instead of ripping off the block.

This is real spit, folks.

Now, I do give Suh credit for developing a good inside move ... finally. He has a nice little jab-ole move that he had a moderate amount of success with this past season. Just being real, I imagine the linemen he beat with that inside move couldn't believe he did something other than a power rush either. Suh has also gotten better at reading his run keys so that he isn't getting trapped so much anymore. He is also at least decent at running pass rush games, an underrated skill.

Before you commit ...

However, at the end of the day, Ndamukong Suh is all about the power rush, still. That would give me two major concerns as a potential suitor:

1. All those bull rushes and playing inside has to be putting a lot of wear and tear on his shoulders and joints. How much longer can you reasonably count on him before his body starts breaking down?

2. If teams offer a small bank to sign any free agent, fans are going to want to see results, i.e. stats. Like it, don't like it ... nobody gives a fuck. Fans and even some owners are going to measure any major free agent signing by the numbers a player puts up.

Can you really count on a power rushing defensive tackle to put up big numbers for much longer, especially a guy who's game hasn't evolved much in his first five years? It's probably going to take at least a five-year deal to get Suh signed. Would you be ready to make that kind of commitment?

That second question might be more important than the first one. I'm down here in Tampa where the GM and head coach signed a defensive end to a big free agent contract last offseason only to see him end up with four measly sacks. Now, the locals are using words like like "hot seat." The fear of being that GM is real, so I am not sure many teams will even join the bidding for Suh. Let's not forget that prior to his 8.5 sack season in 2014, Suh only had 5.5 sacks the year before. I tend to think 5.5 sacks is pretty damn good if there were a lot of pressures included, but is a new owner or a fan base going to think 5.5 sacks is commensurate with the salary their team is doling out to him?

I would be skeptical.

Truth be told -- brace yourself because this is going to sting a little -- Suh is basically a highly skilled nose tackle.

Did I just blow your mind?

I'm dead serious. The guy stays on the left side almost exclusively, so he actually does play 4-3 nose quite a bit. You will find him in between the center and guard rather than the guard and tackle a lot, especially on third downs. He doesn't have a lot of moves, isn't especially quick off the ball and relies heavily on his incredible strength.

Aside from the 4-3 stuff, I could have just as easily be describing Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe. Oh, Suh only had one more sack than Poe in 2013 and 2.5 more last season.

Call it a hot take if you want, but it's real. If a 3-4 team gets in on the bidding for Suh, where in hell do you think they are looking to play him? I know where I would put him, right there at nose and let him kick some center's ass week after week after week.

A defensive tackle like McCoy, Geno Atkins or even Marcell Dareus, who have multiple ways to get to the quarterback, are almost always going to be productive in the sack department as long as they stay healthy. That's because they can go and get sacks on their own without any help from the cats around them. One trick ponies usually need a little help.

I have also peeped that McCoy and Dareus have all added stuff to their pass rush repertoire almost every year of their careers. It's amazing to me that Suh, on the other hand, is still stuck on being a tough guy and pushing guys around with power rushes rather than actually maximizing his talent by incorporating at least various ways to escape off of those power rushes so that he can actually tackle the quarterback instead of just reaching and swiping as he gets ridden past them. That would drive me crazy if I signed him to a huge deal.

No place like home

The Lions, however, are used to all of that from Suh and have embraced it. They've assembled a defense around him under GM Martin Mayhew, an old teammate of mine, where he and his game fit perfectly into a scheme that helps make them a formidable opponent for any team in the league. Therefore his true worth to the Lions is probably even more than that franchise tag number.

I can't see him having anywhere near the same kind of impact on another team, where he would have to fit in like everybody else. The NFL is littered with stories of big-time free agents whose careers got off to great starts before falling off immediately after signing a big contract elsewhere. I'm not saying Suh would be the next name on that list, but I'm not saying he wouldn't either.

I have this sneaky suspicion that the Lions see things the way I see them. They may expect other teams to see it that way too, so they aren't going to tag Suh and will let him test the free agent waters. I think Suh will end up being offered a lot less than he thinks he deserves, which will end with him and the Lions finally working out something.

That isn't to say some teams won't come calling with bags full of money; I just don't think there will be as many teams or as many bags of money as some expect. I also think some of the folks throwing that money at him will have schemes that he won't want to play in after spending most of his career as a left defensive tackle in a 4-3. So many teams have transitioned to the 3-4 defense, which could make his free agent experience even more interesting.

I think Suh will end up being offered a lot less than he thinks he deserves, which will end with him and the Lions finally working out something

I told you where I think he would fit in a 3-4. The problem is that teams don't usually pay 3-4 nose tackles that kinda money. Sooooooo, what's he to do if he wants to get paid, be the heaviest 3-4 rush linebacker in NFL history?


Let me reiterate again that I think Ndamukong Suh is a fantastic player, because I'm sure by now many of you are firing up your keyboards about to fire off a "yOU aRe a SuH HaTerz" comment just because I think the man is a nose tackle in a 3-4.

Do I wish he was more diverse as a pass rusher? Absolutely. Do I think he is wasting his gifts by not at least attempting to learn other moves? Of course.

But do I also think he wrecks shop on the regular? You damn right I do!

It's just that the Lions have damn near assembled the whole rest of defense and designed that scheme around what Suh does best. Unless another team can do the same in one or two offseasons, I am beyond skeptical that the quarterback-like money it will take to sign Suh will eventually be seen as money well spent. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's going to get the GM that pulls that trigger fired.

Look at it this way: If a lot of decision makers see things my way and Suh's offers end up being more reasonable than most think they will be, that potentially adds a bunch of other teams into the mix, teams that don't think they can accommodate his price range right now. Who knows, your team may get in on the Suh derby too!

All bullshit aside, if Suh re-signs with the Lions, their fans should be overjoyed. If he ends up signing elsewhere, fans of that team had better cross all their fingers and toes because I just don't think its going to end well anywhere but in Detroit.

We shall see.