Ndamukong Suh: Can a Defensive Tackle Really Be Worth That Much?

Blue in GreerCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2010

ALLEN PARK, MI - AUGUST 05:  Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions does a drill during training camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on August 5, 2010 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Lion fans don't have to visit many websites to see that the Ndamukong Suh contract has brought up a lot of questions with maybe the biggest question being how can any defensive tackle be worth that much?

Now I am pretty sure most of the comments are not made out of a concern for the financial well-being of William Clay Ford so the question becomes how does this contract fit into a salary cap and development of a NFL team.

If you follow the money closely you are aware that defensive tackle is one of the lowest paid positions in football with a ranking in the bottom three for franchise tag cost.

It's a good point, if teams don't traditionally pay much for the position just how valuable can that position be?

Of course one counter-point would be that bottom three ranking will probably change some after the Suh and Gerald McCoy contracts along with a few of the contracts veteran DTs have signed recently.

Recent contracts like the three years at 21 million for Casey Hampton or five years at 40 million for Vince Wilfork have set the price for quality interior defensive linemen around seven million per year and we haven't even considered Albert Haynesworth or the 70 million plus contract Haloti Ngata is expected to get next year.

When Aubrayo Franklin is franchised you know the franchise tag is too low, unless you believe Franklin is among the top five interior defensive linemen.

Still, the Suh contract exceeds most of those contracts and he has never played a down in the NFL.

There is no way I could dispute that, there simply is no good reason that Suh should make more than Willfork or Hampton other than that's the way the system works right now.

Do I agree with the way this works?

Of course not.

But that's not the question I want to answer right now.

Let's hope the rookie pay is addressed in the next NFLPA contract. We will have plenty of time to discuss that after this season; hopefully it doesn't drag into next season.

The questions I want to answer are can a team afford to pay a defensive tackle that kind of money and how will we know if he is earning it?

I'll deal with the second question first and the simple answer has already been given by fellow bleacherite and M Live'r Imperical and that is "If he is the best DT in the NFL within three years, than he is worth every penny"

Hard to argue with that and I would even go a step further and say he only has to be among the very best DTs.

Top three would work for me and if he is going to pro-bowls the money they will be paying him will be right in line with what we can expect the top DTs will be making by then.

But is that the only measurement?

Suh has to be making pro-bowls?

We know voting for the Pro-Bowl is a pretty hazy process as a number of players have pointed out, so how can we hold Suh to that standard?

The answer is we can't.

Too many great players are left off the roster every year and too many players make it on name recognition alone, though that name recognition thing could work in Suh's favor.

But we don't care how popular he is or what his travel plans are for after the Super Bowl.

Wait, they changed that didn't they?

Okay, once all of his playoff obligations are filled, we don't care what he does with his free time.

Wait, didn't someone say that to Big Ben before?

Okay, how about we don't really care how many Pro-Bowls Suh makes, we want to see the proof in 'our' pudding.

We want to know Suh is helping the Lions win some damn football games.

But how can we quantify that?

Football does not lend itself easily to statistical analysis, especially along the lines.

If sacks are overrated, the surprisingly low 35 sacks and 22nd ranking by the 2000 Ravens seems to back that up, and we know DTs don't get a lot of tackles what stat can we use?

The answer is none.

There is no stat that can tell us how well Suh is doing.

It's the nature of the beast, a defensive tackle can have a perfect game yet not be mentioned by the stat sheet or the average observer.

If a team expects to have problems with a DT they simply give him a little more blocking coverage and run away from him. That means no tackles or sacks, often not even a QB hurry out of it but he impacted the game in a huge way.

I won't even bother with the effects of the double team because it's a subject that has been dissected many times already. Besides, NFL teams often double team the interior of the line.

Where Suh can make a difference is the little things that only a well informed and knowledgeable observer might see, and that's usually only with game film.

If Suh is forcing that Guard to anchor half a foot deeper than usual it changes where the RB can find his hole.

If Suh is keeping the attention of that RB just half a second longer before he releases than he is disrupting the timing of the outlet pass.

If that center is worrying about firing out quick enough to help on Suh maybe the snap isn't as crisp or maybe the center didn't catch that safety creeping into blitz position so the he didn't make the right line call.

If an offensive line has to reduce their splits just a little does it mess with the timing of the pulling guards and the outside running game?

When a defensive end crashes hard into an offensive tackle's inside shoulder does the OT have to be just a little extra careful because he knows with Suh's abilities it might be a stunt?

Does the opposing team have to simply not run plays they usually thrive on?

One way to judge Suh's impact would be on the Monday before the game. If Suh is mentioned within the first thirty seconds while the opposing coaches are setting their offensive game plan than he is earning his money.

Unfortunately I doubt many of us will be in any of those meetings so what about total team statistics?

We can't really look here either.

If Suh gets a nice push and the runner has to adjust his hole does it make a difference when the Linebacker doesn't make the tackle?

If Suh is bearing down on the Quarterback but the Wide Receiver is wide open so the pass is completed anyways can we hold that against Suh?

If that Defensive End didn't seal that edge does it matter if Suh flushes the Quarterback?

No, this is a team game and a defense needs to be firing on all cylinders for it to work. NFL offenses are too good at finding the weak link, Suh will need plenty of help if we expect to see this defense improve.

We can debate how much help Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have given him so far and dream of the days when the Lions are adding Pro-Bowl caliber Cornerbacks but other than the salary cap ramifications the money Suh makes isn't relevant.

Of course it is those salary cap ramifications that gives some of us pause.

If your Defensive Tackle is making that kind of money will there be enough cap space left to build the rest of the team?

Wouldn't it make more sense to pay an elite pass rusher or maybe even a shutdown corner that kind of money first?

Looking back at the list of franchise player figures it does add some teeth to that last question.

If we still need a DE and CB and they have those pricey tags can we afford to blow our budget on a position we could fill a lot cheaper?

My answer would be no, we can't afford to fill the DT position for that kind of money.

But the Lions didn't spend 68 million to fill a DT position.

The Lions spent 68 million on Ndamkong Suh and there is a difference.

That extra cash is for the extra he brings.

When that first round draft pick three years from now sees how hard Suh works every single day the Lions will be getting a return on their money.

When that OTA is getting a little stale and some minds wander the Lions will get their payback when Suh snaps that whole defense back into focus.

When it's an important game and Suh is playing like it was against Texas all over again the Lions will know they spent their money wisely.

When some team has been moving the ball on the Lions but now it's 3rd and 2 late in the 4th quarter and the Lions need a stop so it's Suh who takes it on his shoulders to get it done nobody will be talking about his pay check.

No - the Lions don't expect a defensive tackle for their money, they expect a leader and cornerstone for their defense.

He has the talent to be a top defensive lineman and it appears he has the intangibles to be not only a great player but a great leader; something the Lions haven't seen on the defense since Chris Speilman.

NFL teams don't usually pay a lot for middle linebackers but Ray Lewis has earned every penny the Ravens have paid him and nobody except his agent is complaining about Troy Polamalu making two million a year over the franchise tag for safeties.

Great players make an impact no matter their position and great leaders are priceless.

It won't happen overnight and the Lions have wisely added players like Kyle VandenBosch and Corey Williams who can help him with his growth this year. With Sammie Hill along side, Suh can get his feet wet this year while not having the pressure on him the way Stafford did last year.

We can expect him to rotate with the other DTs and maybe even see a little DE this year. We can also expect to see him on the sidelines at times.

It will be a year of learning not only his role but the role of his teammates and of course all those dirty, cheating tricks those opposing offensive linemen will use on him.

He will look lost at times and he will wear down over the season. Those big uglies he is fighting are used to playing against talented players.

There might be whole games where he seems to disappear or worse yet become frustrated and commit a few too many mistakes that cost the Lions some points, maybe even the game.

But don't expect this learning process to take forever.

Great players have a tendency to play great and it usually doesn't take long for that greatness to show.

It will be flashes at first, the kind that burns but a veteran QB like Aaron Rodgers can work around a few flashes. Does it matter if Suh hurries a QB into an incompletion if that same QB completes a first down pass on the next play?

But over time the flashes will turn to a slow burning fire that radiates a heat throughout the defense that no quarterback can avoid. Those flashes will provide the spark and the consistent high level effort of Suh will serve as kindling for the confidence and sheer will power every defense needs to succeed.

It's not just the players either, roles need to be defined and strengths and weaknesses of the players are being assessed so the proper adjustments to the defensive system can be made.

Coaches will need the confidence in the other players to call the plays that will allow Suh to shine. Much like the rest of the offense held Stafford back last year, Suh's running mates are probably not ready to totally unleash this house of spears.

While Suh is the type of player who can cover a lot of weaknesses, what the Lions really hope they have done with their investment is add that leader for the defense, someone who can make an impact not only on the field and in the locker room but with the fan base as well.

Suh brings an excitement to a morbid franchise that any Left Tackle simply couldn't bring. The fans demanded a warrior to champion their cause and their cause was a defense that was record breaking in their futility.

This was one of those times when need matched want and even rarer when an answer was so easily available.

Maybe that's two years in a row the Lions hit the NFL draft lottery but don't forget all the years of wishing the right numbers would pop up. It's rare when exactly what you need is staring you right in the face.

It's clear that the plan was to get the offense up to NFL speed as quickly as possible. Considering the combination of at least some talent on the offense and the total lack of talent on the defense when Mayhew and Schwartz stepped in it made perfect sense; especially when their franchise QB was staring them in their face.

Let the offense take the brunt of the pressure to win games now.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't a plan for the defense.

They started the talent infusion last year with Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy and Sammie Hill among others but they still needed that cornerstone. They needed a true stud, someone who other teams had to plan for and they needed him now.

Any defense needs to work together as a unit and that takes time to build those relationships and confidence. It takes a few battles together before they can start thinking about winning any wars and it helps if your leader fought those same battles along side the foot soldiers.

Give Stafford and that offense a couple of years and they will be among the best in the NFL.

There will be meaningful games in late December, maybe even January.

The hope is Suh will be leading the charge of a young, talented and hungry defense who will be coming into their own just when the Lions will need them the most.

Will Suh be worth the 68 million?

We will have that answer in another three or four years.

How will we know if the money was well spent?

When his agent wants to re-negotiate.

I'm hoping 68 million was only the down payment on an all-time great Detroit Lion career.


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