Ndamukong Suh Should Be NFL’s Most Coveted Free Agent Left on the Market

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 17: Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Miami Dolphins looks on during their NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on December 17, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

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Eight years into his NFL career, Ndamukong Suh remains equal parts dominant and maddening. He’s also the best player left in the 2018 free-agent market. 

It came as a bit of a surprise when the Dolphins released Suh as free agency began. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported the move came as part of Miami’s “attempt at a culture change,” although his release also cleared $17 million in cap space.

He has already visited the Saints and Titans, per Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports, and he visited the Rams on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Cowboys and Seahawks likewise expressed interest in him at one point, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, although neither appear to be in the running for his services at the moment. Suh had a trip scheduled Wednesday to visit the Raiders, but he has since called that off, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Throughout his career, Suh has amassed 292 solo tackles, 57 sacks, 87 quarterback hits, 289 quarterback hurries and 273 run stops, per Pro Football Focus. He’s made nearly $124.5 million on contracts with the Lions and Dolphins that totaled $174.375 million upon signing, per OverTheCap.com.

He’s also paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for play that went beyond the whistle, including a $100,000 fine in 2013 for going low with a block on Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan, the largest fine for an on-field incident in NFL history. He was also suspended two games in 2011 after he stomped the arm of Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. In addition, he received a one-game suspension in 2014 for stepping on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (which was later reduced to a $70,000 fine).

Those fines and that suspension are as much of a part of Suh’s legacy as his on-field play, which has been exemplary for the most part. Selected second overall in the 2010 draft after a prominent career at Nebraska, Suh won the Associated Press Rookie of the Year award after putting up 11 sacks, six quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries along with 48 run stops, per PFF.

Suh never matched that sack total again, but when he wasn’t engendering contempt for his aggressive mentality, he emerged as the most dominant defensive tackle in recent NFL history.

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After five years in Detroit, Suh signed a monstrous six-year, $114 million deal with the Dolphins in 2015 that made him the highest-paid defensive player in league history. The Dolphins complicated his impact at first by trying to turn him into a reactive, two-gap defender as opposed to the one-gap attack player he had been in Detroit, a role that suited his skill set far better. But Suh still managed six sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 41 quarterback hurries in his inaugural season in Miami, per PFF.

Throughout his three-year tenure with the Dolphins, he lived up to his mammoth contract for the most part—especially when the team finally decided to let him do what he does best as a one-gap pass-rusher and run-stopper as a one-tech, three-tech and five-tech tackle, plying his trade everywhere from between the center and the guard to outside the offensive tackle.

Now, Suh is on the open market without an immediate landing spot for the first time in his career.

Players of Suh’s caliber are rarely available a week into free agency. At age 31, it’s possible his market is beginning to dry up. His on-field dominance may no longer trump his penchant for borderline plays in the eyes of NFL teams. Personnel evaluators from multiple teams told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that Suh takes too many plays off.

But based on his 2017 tape, Suh still brings a high level of effort on the majority of his snaps. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to make some of the plays he does.

The new-look Suh is not the dominant strength defender he once was. The guy who could blow up double-teams with a simple bull-rush or quick swipe move is a thing of the past. Suh had to develop the ability to run to and through gaps, which he put on display repeatedly throughout the 2017 season.

Let’s start with this sack of Tom Brady in Miami’s Week 14 win over the Patriots. Here, Suh hasn’t quite gotten into his stance before he needs to move against right guard Joe Thuney (No. 62) because Brady takes a quick snap.

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From a two-point stance, Suh engages Thuney with a bull-rush, but he gets pushed to his right.

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Brady has a clean pocket at this time because fellow defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (No. 97) has a double-team to deal with, but you can see Suh starting to advance past Thuney to the quarterback.

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Suh’s closing speed to Brady is outstanding, and that’s a play where he was out of the pocket just a split-second before the sack.

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This play in the same game wasn’t a sack, but Suh did manage to pressure Brady. In terms of his overall effort level, it might have been Suh’s most remarkable play of the season.

Suh is aligned at a slight angle between right guard Shaq Mason (No. 69) and right tackle Cameron Fleming (No. 71).

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At the snap, he crosses Mason’s face to engage with center David Andrews (No. 60). Andrews does a nice job of using Suh’s leverage against him, pushing him into Thuney.

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At this point, it looks as though there’s no way Suh will get anywhere near Brady unless he can disengage and move toward the quarterback. He does just that.

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In the end, Suh’s pressure forces a throwaway.

Suh’s inability to square up to Andrews on this play is a concern, but his nonstop motor was the mitigating factor.

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As a run-stopper, Suh brings brains and brawn to the equation. Here, in Miami’s Week 15 loss to the Bills, he is the primary instigator in a three-yard loss from running back LeSean McCoy. His adjustment based on a blocking read is what makes the difference.

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Pre-snap, Suh realigns himself from a one-tech spot on the left shoulder of right guard Vlad Ducasse (No. 62) to a zero-tech spot right on the head of center Eric Wood (No. 70).

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At the snap, Ducasse pulls to the left, and McCoy (No. 25) is supposed to follow him to daylight by crossing the formation.

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But because Suh read the play perfectly, he uses Ducasse’s pull as an opportunity to fire into the open gap, rush past Wood and knock McCoy down.

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This sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Miami’s Week 6 win over Atlanta is an example of Suh’s ability to break through a double-team and stop a play with intelligence and technique as opposed to brute strength.

Suh is lined up as an angled three-tech between left guard Andy Levitre (No. 67) and left tackle Jake Matthews (No. 70).

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At the snap, Levitre and Matthews double-team Suh, but he pushes them toward center Alex Mack (No. 51). This allows one-tech tackle Jordan Phillips to loop around to start pursuit of Ryan, which forces Matthews off of Suh to focus on Phillips.

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Phillips misses the tackle on Ryan after breaking through the pocket, so with Mack and Levitre blocking him, Suh does a remarkable push-pull move where he’s able to break through the double-team and take Ryan down.

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Once again, you see the benefit of Suh’s ability to diagnose blocking techniques, and his upper-body strength allows him to break free from two gifted power-blockers.

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There’s also this play in a Week 10 loss against the Carolina Panthers in which Suh starts aligned with right guard Trai Turner (No. 70) and moves all the way across the formation to meet running back Jonathan Stewart for a short gain. It is hard to reconcile the allegedly “low-effort” Suh with the player that shows up in these playsand others.

In addition, Suh played 877 of a possible 1,045 snaps in 2017, per PFF. He wasn’t subbed out in a rotation, as many players his age tend to be. That suggests he still has the potential to play at a plus level for a number of seasons.

Among the teams he’s considering, Suh’s fit with the Rams may be the most interesting. With two outstanding defensive tackles in Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers already in L.A., adding Suh to Wade Phillips’ historically effective schemes could be a game-changer.

According to ESPN.com’s Alden Gonzalez, the Rams likely would ask Suh to reside at the one-tech spot between the center and guard, with Donald and Brockers outside. That would work in Phillips’ base one-gap 5-2 front. When the Rams go to their nickel package with four defensive linemen, Suh could line up anywhere and be highly effective—especially with Donald, the NFL’s best active defensive tackle, commanding double-teams on nearly every play.

If the Saints or Titans go all-in on Suh, other linemen would benefit from Suh’s presence and vice versa—Cameron Jordan in New Orleans and Jurrell Casey in Tennessee are also among the NFL’s best.

Suh may have waited longer than expected to find his next team, but he should have no problem choosing a landing spot that works well for the final years of his career.