Splashy free agent signings are fun. Really fun. But they aren’t always prudent.
The Dolphins got what they wanted out of Ndamukong Suh, who continued to be among the absolute elite defensive tackles in the NFL during his three seasons with the team, but from the start he was a luxury they couldn’t afford. They finally see that, and ESPN reported this morning they’ve made the painful decision to cut him.
It’s not as simple as letting him go and erasing the $76 million they would’ve been paying him over the next three seasons. Miami gets out of some of that, but it’s still going to cost about $9 million in salary cap space this season to send Suh packing.
That stings, but it’s worth it.
Not because Suh is any kind of problem, but because this isn’t how good teams typically allocate their money. One defensive tackle taking up a little over 14 percent of the total payroll forces a team to cut too many corners at other positions.
No single player on the Patriots last season, for example, ate up more than 8.6 percent of their cap space. For the champion Eagles, the high was 6.2 percent.
Think of the positions where the Dolphins struggled last year. Offensive line, linebacker and tight end immediately come to mind. They were in the bottom 11 in spending at each of those positions. Even with the brutal dead money left on Suh’s contract, there’s a newfound ability to address those deficiencies.
And as well as Suh played the last three years, he wasn’t enough to give the Dolphins the ferocious defensive line they imagined when they signed him for a staggering $114 million over six years in 2015.
They’ll try it a different way with cheaper defensive tackles in Davon Godchaux, Jordan Phillips and Vincent Taylor and high-priced ends in Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Andre Branch. They also have 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris.
The Dolphins had the third-most expensive defensive line in the league last season and finished 26th in sacks. The year before, they were No. 1 in price tag and 19th in sacks. Even with Suh mauling people in the middle and constantly drawing double- and triple-teams, the plan wasn’t working.
Nobody was afraid to stand in the pocket against Miami’s d-line last year. It’s the reason so many quarterbacks had their best performances of the season when they faced the Dolphins.
Miami averaged one sack every 19 dropbacks, which equates to once or twice a game. That backfield was cozy compared to what quarterbacks encountered against Jacksonville, which spent its d-line money far more effectively. The Jaguars had the second-priciest unit in the league, but delivered a sack every once every 10 opportunities.
The Dolphins’ inability to infiltrate the pocket was a huge reason they ranked near the bottom of the league in opponent passer rating (94.8) and completion percentage (64.2).
The Dolphins were also 28th, 30th and 14th in run defense in his three seasons.
It’s hard to say that’s Suh’s fault when every indication was that he’s been playing some of the best football of his career.
He had 4.5 sacks, 48 tackles, two forced fumbles and Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 4 at his position. He did everything he could for Miami, playing all 48 games and staying on the field for 88.2 percent of the defensive snaps over three years. He totaled 15.5 sacks and 181 tackles.
It just didn’t matter.
Regardless of how cool it is to have a marquee name like Suh or how excellent he’s been individually, it’s impossible to justify paying that much money for someone who isn’t making an overwhelming difference in the defense. It was an unwise signing at the time, and it would’ve been even more foolish to keep proceeding down this path.
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