There are a lot of staggering numbers about the Ndamukong Suh contract, starting with the $114 million total value and the $60 million guaranteed.
But this is also pretty staggering: Suh’s cap hit jumps from $6.1 million in 2015 to $28.6 million in 2016. So with one signature, the Dolphins’ current 2016 cap commitments soared today from $102 million to $131 million.
Unless the Dolphins reach a longterm contract with Ryan Tannehill before the 2016 season, Tannehill would have a $16 million cap hit that year, bringing Miami’s cap obligations to $147 million.
Throw in the cap hit for an expected multiyear contract for Mike Pouncey and new contracts for post-2015 free agents Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon, and that would potentially put the Dolphins over the 2016 cap, which is expected to fall between $150 million and $160 million.
But the situation is not as dire as it looks. The Dolphins --- before the 2016 season --- can clear out lots of cap space by cutting or restructuring Mike Wallace ($9.3 million in relief if cut), Cam Wake ($8.4 million), Brent Grimes ($6.5 million), Dannell Ellerbe ($5.1 million) and Reshad Jones ($6.3 million).
That puts the onus on the front office drafting, and coaches developing, players who could eventually replace some of those, especially the first four in that group. The hope is that Dion Jordan shows enough this year to eventually replace Wake, whether it’s in 2016 or beyond.
Here are Suh’s annual cap numbers, courtesy of Aaron Wilson of The National Football Post and overthecap.com:
2015: $6.1 million
2016: $28.6 million
2017: $15.1 million
2018: $22.1 million
2019: $24.1 million
2020: $18.4 million
As for 2015, the Dolphins have only about $6 million to $7 million in space depending on Brice McCain’s first-year number, according to overthecap.com. But parting with Charles Clay (who is being courted by the Bills) would clear another $7.1 million. An extension with Pouncey could produce more space by reducing his $7.4 million cap hit. More can be created by doing something with Dannell Ellerbe's contract (more on that in a minute).
The Dolphins need at least $4 million to sign draft picks. So there’s not a lot of spending money left, but enough for the Dolphins to fill a few needs with good value pickups. And Miami obviously needs a good draft (but when isn't that the case?)
The Dolphins’ situation at linebacker has taken an unexpected turn.
As Armando Salguero noted earlier today on his blog, the Dolphins are now interested in restructuring Dannell Ellerbe’s contract. (Read Armando's blog for more on that and the Mike Wallace talks.)
Armando's story is interesting for two reasons: 1) The Dolphins conveyed to Ellerbe late last week that they intended to trade or release him, according to one of only a few people directly involved in the matter. As I reported Friday and Fox’s Alex Marvez reported this week, the Dolphins have been trying to trade Ellerbe.
2) As of Wednesday at 5 p.m., the Dolphins had not yet made any attempts to restructure Ellerbe, which likely would involve a pay cut.
This is also noteworthy: Two people who had spoken to the Dolphins front office said the team made clear it wants to upgrade at middle linebacker if it can. When the names David Harris and Mason Foster were raised a couple of weeks ago, a Dolphins executive said Miami liked them both.
But Harris, who expected Dolphins’ interest, never made it to free agency, instead re-signing with the Jets. (Harris is one of Mike Tannenbaum's favorite players, according to a Jets source who talks with him.)
And Foster, who also was expecting Dolphins’ interest, hasn’t been pursued by Miami in the first two days of free agency.
The mystery is what happened in the past few days to make the Dolphins front office rethink their position about Ellerbe. The money invested on Suh could be a factor but there's probably more to it than that.
The Dolphins are in a position of strength when they eventually approach Ellerbe about a restructuring of a non-guaranteed contract that would pay him $8.4 million next season.
Remember, the Dolphins can save $8.4 million against the cap for 2015 if they release him after June 1. (They could release him before with a post-June 1 designation but wouldn’t get the full cap savings until after June 1.) If they cut him before June 1, the savings would be $5.7 million. His cap number is $9.85 million. They also still might trade him.
So if Ellerbe balks at a cut, the Dolphins could keep him until after June 1 and cut him then, which would give them more cap relief this year and also limit Ellerbe’s options, since most teams who need linebackers will have spent their money and filled their need by then.
So the Dolphins have several options: They could approach Foster; Dennis Hickey was part of the front office that drafted him in Tampa and Hickey has been complimentary about him. They could look for a starting linebacker in the first or second round of the draft.
They could go with a starting unit of Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi and Ellerbe, with Chris McCain, Jordan Tripp and Kelvin Sheppard competing. Or they could move Dion Jordan to linebacker, a move that the team said this week that it has not made (at least to this point).
It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
STEVE ROSS' THOUGHTS
Here's what Dolphins owner Steve Ross had to say today about the signing of Suh:
"It’s pretty exciting for us as I guess it is for all of the public when people are really here to meet as we introduce Ndamukong Suh into the Dolphin family. To me, it’s very exciting to be able to get a player who’s been a five-time All-Pro, a really dominant player in the middle of his prime.
"It’s probably one of the great free agent signings, at least this year if not on an historical basis. It’s great for the Miami Dolphins to have a player like Ndamukong, but just as important is the person that really who he is and what he’s going to mean to our organization. Just to tell a little story and what he has done in his life, we all know him as a great player, but the impact he’s had in the places that he’s played. It’s unheard of almost when he graduated and he gave his gift to Nebraska of $2.6 million, with this signing bonus.
"You don’t see that and how he cares about the community and his future life, and the impact he’s had on those communities. I know after the rumors of the signing were out and I get emails, I got an email from Jalen Rose, who we all know, he said, ‘Congratulations getting a great player, but also a better person.’ Then I got a phone call on Monday, I just picked up the phone, I thought it was Jorge Perez, my partner, I pick it up and I said, ‘Jorge’ and he said, ‘This is Warren Buffet.’ I said, ‘What?’
"Who I happen to know, but he said, ‘Congratulations, you’re getting a great person, Ndamukong Suh, take great care of him because he’s going to mean a lot to you.’ That’s the kind of person he is and what he means to both the team and what he’ll mean to South Florida.
"That really makes me very proud to have him join the Miami Dolphins. I’d just like to thank Mike Tannenbaum, I know the work that he has put in and the effort dealing with Jimmy Sexton, his agent, is not easy. He just got the deal finalized this morning. We came down here, obviously we all thought the deal was close to being done and we’re done. So Mike, thank you, and the team that he worked, with Dennis (Hickey) and everybody else that really made this happen. So Mike, Thank you and good job.”
How involved was he in landing Suh? “I think, any time you have the opportunity and someone’s available with the background and what he brought to the table, you have to look at it carefully. We looked at it, I looked at it as you don’t run a football team without really wanting to win.
"As you all know, that’s what I really want to bring to the table here. The more I read about him and the more I learned about him, the more I told Mike (Tannenbaum), ‘Hey, this is a guy, look into it.’ And Mike did a great job of helping research the background, who he was. I asked people about him and, the more I heard about him as a person and knowing what he did on the football field, really said, ‘Hey, this is a guy that you really want to build organizations around and be a critical part of it.’ And we’re very fortunate that we were able to get him.”
Ross, on Mike Tannenbaum: “Just to build on that answer, there’s been so much work done in the years leading up to this moment to be opportunistic. Any great organization in any endeavor wants to be opportunistic when the right opportunity presents itself. To have the right sort of contractual situations, the right personnel situation, to be able to take advantage of opportunity when someone of his character, not only on the field, but off the field. For years, there were a lot of good things that happened that led to this point that we can take advantage of this opportunity.”
### I'll be tied up with Heat and a few other things for a bit, but buzz will return later this month... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz