The Detroit Lions were able to free up about $7.5 million this week when Ndamukong Suh agreed to restructure his contract. It’s obviously great that Suh was willing to do so, but I’m often confused by the praise lauded to players for such a decision. The opportunity to do what Suh did should be a no-brainer for any player in his position even beyond the ability to help the club field a better team.
After all, a simple contract restructure is little more than an accounting trick NFL teams use to free up cap space at the expense of future years. Base salary is converted to a bonus whose cap hit is spread over the remaining years of the contract.
The fact is that Suh made a very smart business decision by restructuring. By converting his salary to a bonus he will get more money up front rather than in the form of game checks spread across the season and he gives himself a huge amount of leverage as he approaches his second NFL contract.
ESPN’s Keven Seifert has a nice breakdown of the ramifications of Suh’s restructure in the future.
NFL rules would assign Suh a franchise tag figure of $25.7 million, far too high for any player and especially a defensive tackle. It would render the tag useless for the Lions and allow Suh to hit the free agent market, much like Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams did last winter.
If the Lions decide they don’t want Suh long-term, they probably would have to live with his $21.412 million cap number in 2014. Releasing him before the season would still cost the Lions about $18 million against the 2014 cap, a minimal $3 million savings.
Suh is technically under contract through 2015 but the final year is voidable so the expectation is that he could hit free agency after the 2014. No player likes to get slapped with the franchise tag and by pushing out cap hits by restructuring his deal the last two offseasons, Suh has guaranteed that he will not get tagged.
That means the Lions will enter next offseason looking to engage Suh in contract extension talks. Suh’s representatives will hold the power in the bargaining process (as Matthew Stafford‘s do now) knowing that the Lions need to reduce his cap hit without the threat of the franchise tag looming if a deal can’t be reached. In restructuring, Suh gives up nothing but gains a lot. The Lions gained the cap space to help land Reggie Bush, Chris Houston, Glover Quin and Jason Jones, but lose future bargaining power with Ndamukong Suh.