NFL salary cap expert weighs in on Dolphins’ Suh and Landry dilemmas

Will Ndamukong Suh be smiling in Miami in 2018 and beyond? (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Miami Dolphins are locked into a one-year contract with a player it very much seems they’d like to trade (Jarvis Landry) and appear to be at least considering moving on from a dominant player (Ndamukong Suh) who may make too much.

It can all seem a bit confusing, and terms like base salary, guaranteed money, salary cap hit and salary cap dead money can give any fan a headache. It may also leave fans (and sometimes journalists) thinking, “Why can’t they just work this all out?”

Well, usually, the answer is, football is a business. And teams and players make business decisions. And so to help sort this out a bit, The Daily Dolphin ran a few questions by former sports agent and current salary cap and contract expert Joel Corry, a contributor to CBS Sports.

Post: How much dead cap space would the Dolphins create and how much money would they save if they cut Suh?

Corry: Suh’s cap number for 2018 is $26.1 million, which is one of the highest, if not the highest, defensive cap numbers in the league. As a post-June 1 designation, Miami could pick up $17 million of cap room for this year. The total dead cap space over two years would be $22.2 million. They’ll have do something by March 18 because of his guarantees.

Post: On the one hand, Miami could just pay Suh, for example, his scheduled $54.1 million over the next two seasons. For a good player. So how could a team justify or explain using $22.2 million in dead cap space with no return from the player in those years?

Corry: They’re a year at a time now with Suh. They could carry him this year and make a decision next year. So they don’t have to commit to two years. Usually a team is going to look at the salary, not the cap number, and they’re going to say, well, he’s making 17 this year and 19 next year. Is he worth in our eyes the 17 this year? That’s really what they’re determination is going to be. If they don’t think he’s worth the 17, then they’re probably going to ask him to take a pay cut or release him. They kind of look at the dead cap money as it is what it is. The Dolphins are so far over the cap now after franchising Jarvis Landry, and then they’re going to bring in Robert Quinn at a salary of almost $11.5 million, so that may force them to make a move with Suh that they wouldn’t have made had they not been so aggressive.

Post: How would a $22.2 million dead cap hit rank among recent or all-time cap hits?

Corry: Last year, Tony Romo had 19.6. That’s the highest one that I can recall. And they ended up restructuring his contract a couple of times, because that’s what Dallas does. They’ll kick the can down the road on cap room to tomorrow. They didn’t contemplate Romo having a back injury, Dak Prescott taking his job. The Colts had a pretty big one with Peyton Manning when they cut him. There was $16 million in signing bonus proration. But there was a credit that made his dead money total 10.4. And then you had Darrelle Revis, when he got traded to the Jets they had $13 million in dead money. And when Richard Seymour finally called it quits they had about 13. This would be the greatest ever, as far as I can remember.

Post: So if he’s cut how would you assess the Suh contract in retrospect?

Corry: Well, you would have gotten the three years out of him, which is when the guarantee ran out. It’s just this is all of function of how they structure their veteran contracts. When they did a restructure is when they got into trouble. Because when you do that, you already had a $25.5 million signing bonus. So no matter what they were going to have double-digit dead money. So if they just left it alone, and were cutting him this year, they would have $10.2 in dead money, which would still be one of the highest. But they compounded the problem with the restructure. But that’s what Miami does. Their “MO” has been low cap hit first year, big second year. Usually guarantees only run through two years. His ran through three. Suh would be massive because it’s unique. I’d be curious to see how he would do in the open market.

Post: So if you were Suh, would you consider a pay cut?

Corry: I’m sure Suh’s agent is looking around and trying to figure out if it would make sense. He’s got $54.375 million over three years left, which is a big, big number. Maybe if I can get close to that I don’t do anything. Or maybe he just wants out. Wants to play in a different defense. Or maybe he’d take 13 or 15 on a one-year and then hit the market next year. It all depends on how Suh feels and what the market may bear. Suh has already received his money, so if they let him go, there is a cap effect but he’s paid out — $60 million over three years.

Post: Are salary cap constraints overplayed? Should Dolphins fans actually not be that worried that right now Miami has the least cap space in the NFL?

Corry: They should be worried to some degree. Because you can do it if you take a credit card approach to the salary cap. Pittsburgh does it all the time. They’ve restructured multiple contracts to accommodate Le’Veon Bell’s franchise tag. They just did Antonio Brown. Dallas and the Saints do that. You can do it. The fan, if they care about this stuff, would be concerned about kicking the can down the road and mortgaging the future. It doesn’t really matter to the degree that the cap goes up. As long as the cap keeps going up 6, 7 or 8 percent, you can probably outrun kicking the can down the road. If the cap goes up 1 or 2 percent, you’ve got a major problem. That was part of the problem with Oakland in the past. But you’ve got some exit points with Julius Thomas, Lawrence Timmons and Ja’Wuan James and then they can restructure Kiko Alonso, Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey, Kenny Stills. You can get there. But we’ll see where it is next year. Some say, ‘We’ll worry about today today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.’

Post: In your research, are teams with lower dead monies on the cap more successful?

Corry: Not really a correlation. I’ll give you example. Philadelphia had tons of dead money this year.  They had dead money from Sam Bradford. They actually had money going to Chase Daniel. They had more in dead money for those two quarterbacks than they had in cap charges for Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. So there is more than one way to skin the cat. The soundest way and cleanest way to do it is to structure deals which are pay as you go, where you keep the cap number and cash the same so it’s not a signing bonus. Oakland does that. As long as you don’t give signing bonuses, once the guarantees are over you have a lot of flexibility because you have zero dead money when you release a guy.

Post: What do you think would be the pros and the cons of franchise tagging a player such as Jarvis Landry, if the intent is to trade him?

Corry: I think the Dolphins are getting a little cute with that one. To me, because you shopped him last year at the trading deadline and couldn’t find any takers, so now to me, it’s a little bit worse. Because now, someone would have to take on the franchise tag, but also give up significant compensation in return to get him. And then given he thinks he should be paid like an elite receiver, and guys who don’t stretch the field aren’t paid typically at that level, you’ll get no compensation, having to pay him more than he’s probably worth. So I don’t really see that happening unless you have one of these receiver-needy teams with tons of cap room, getting desperate. He signed the tender. So now you’re stuck if you can’t work out a trade. Because it’s fully guaranteed. Now that he’s signed it, you can’t rescind it. So I think the Dolphins may have outsmarted themselves. You didn’t want him six months ago! If someone could have taken him off your hands then you would have done it.

READ MORE of Joel Corry’s work at CBS Sports

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