The Miami Dolphins signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a record-setting contract last year, making him the highest paid defensive player in league history. Snapping up Suh was the centerpiece of last year's free agency maneuvers, and it took a 6-year, $114 million deal to accomplish it. In order to make everything work last year, Suh was given a base salary of just $985,000, while he was handed a signing bonus of $25.5 million, giving him a salary cap number of just $6.1 million.
In 2016, however, his salary cap number jumps to $28.6 million, the highest of the six years on his contract. It is a number that eats away a lot of the team's cap space, and has led to a lot of criticism of the team, with people not understanding how the Dolphins can commit that much money to a defensive tackle.
The truth is, the Dolphins were never going to keep Suh at that salary cap number.
Miami Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum, during his media availability at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, told reporters, the team plans on having the salary cap space they need for this year. "By the time we get to the first day of the league year, we should have plenty of room to address the needs that we have," Tannenbaum said. "Certainly we will be looking at Suh's contract."
How hard will it be for Miami to re-work Suh's contract? Actually, it will be a fairly simple move.
As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's David Hyde reported in October, then reiterated Wednesday morning, Suh's contract is made to be restructured; it includes a clause allowing the Dolphins to turn base salary into bonus, giving the money to Suh up-front, but allowing the salary cap implications to be spread over five years.
One year into a six-year contract means, this is the only year in which a five-year spread can fully work. If the team used the option next year, the spread would only go over the four-years remaining - unless an extension was added.
Suh's base salary for 2016 is $23.485 million, again the highest of his six-year contract. That money is already guaranteed, so Miami will be paying him that money in some form. Swapping it from a base salary into a bonus allows the Dolphins to account for just $4.697 million of that money in this year's salary cap. Add that to the already existent signing bonus from last year, and Suh's salary cap number drops from $28.6 million to $9.797 million.
In just one move, the Dolphins clear nearly $20 million in salary cap space.
The Dolphins would be increasing Suh's cap number in the other four years of the contract as well, adding another $4.697 million to the deal each year, meaning he would account for $19.797 million in 2017, $26.797 million in 2018, $28.797 million in 2018, and $23.072 million in 2019. At some point, Suh is going to take a large chunk out of Miami's salary cap. The good news, however, is the salary cap will only continue to increase over the next several years as well. This year, it is expected to be close to $155 million. It has increased by about $10 million every year, recently, meaning it could over $175 million mid-way through Suh's deal and could be closing in on $200 million by the time Suh's contract expires.
The Dolphins are in better shape with Suh's contract than a lot of people realize. It will be an issue at some point, but the team is betting on having more space in future years when the larger salary cap numbers start becoming due.