Officially no longer a Lion after signing an enormous contract with the Dolphins, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh says he always wanted to stay in Detroit.
“There is no question that it’s a huge misconception that I didn’t want to be here,” Suh told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve always wanted to be here, especially growing up [as a person] here, being drafted here and having such a huge warm welcome. I think anybody would be crazy not to want to be at a place that they’re superly embraced. There’s tons of people in this community that I have gotten to know over time that to me, one, I’ve created mentors here, people from the business world that have just reached out and wanting to make sure that I’m doing the right things. So for me it was not an easy decision by any means.”
The money made it easier, as in $59.955 million fully guaranteed at signing as part of a six-year, $114 million contract. Per Birkett, the Lions topped out at $58 million guaranteed on a $102 million deal. It’s unclear how much of the guaranteed money offered by Detroit was fully guaranteed.
“For me, my goal was always to come back,” Suh told Birkett. “I was never looking to want to leave and figure out a different situation. But at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for myself and for my family because at the end of the day, those are people I have to look in the eyes each and every single day for the rest of my life and know I made the right decision for us as a whole and for my future and my future kids, my wife, that I’ll eventually hopefully have soon.”
Although Suh said in December that his agent will pick his next team, Suh claimed that he didn’t realize he’d have a new team until recently.
“I thought at every single point through the process that I was going to be in Detroit,” Suh told Birkett. “Even after they didn’t do the franchise tag . . . I still felt just a great, great chance of me still being in Detroit. So, it wasn’t until really, really late, late in the process is where I was like, ‘Wow, I got to, I actually got to start thinking outside of Detroit.'”
On the notion that agent Jimmy Sexton would be picking Suh’s next team, Suh offered clarification.
“When I said the comment in December or whatever [that] Jimmy’s going to make the decision for me, without question Jimmy’s going to have a heavy input into it,” Suh said. “He’s my agent, he’s in every single negotiation, talking to every single team, speaking to the Lions, I mean, to the 11th hour, 12th hour, whatever you want to say. . . . [A]t the end of the day I have to take credit and I have to take the heat of the decisions I make in my life, so why as a human being and as a young man not have good counsel and a solid group of people around you to help make the decision? But at the end of the day it’s your decision.”
So why did Suh, presumably after getting advice from those around him, give an exclusive to the Free Press in which he explains that he wasn’t counting the days until he could get out of Detroit and that he always wanted to stay? Although they’ve broken up, Suh apparently still wants to be more than friends with Detroit.
“I envision [my relationship with the city being] no different than what it was when I was here, if not more in a lot of different aspects, especially from the business side of the world,” Suh said. “I don’t see it changing much. It hasn’t changed at Nebraska, it hasn’t changed in Portland, so why would it change here?”
The difference is that in Nebraska and Portland, things came to a natural conclusion. He didn’t leave college early; he stayed as long as he could and then left because he had to leave. In Detroit, he didn’t have to leave. In Detroit, he could have taken the best offer that Lions made. In Detroit, a natural ending would have been retirement after 12 years or so.
But here’s the wrinkle Suh didn’t mention: There’s no guarantee it would have ended naturally if he’d stayed. A bad year or two, and the Lions may have escaped the remainder of the deal — especially without fully-guaranteed salaries for the first three years.
Teams always want players to take less to stay. Teams will rarely if ever pay players a penny more than they absolutely have to.
That’s what Suh should have said to Birkett. That Suh was ready to make a long-term commitment to the Lions but that the Lions weren’t ready to make a long-term commitment to him. So he had to take the longest-term commitment he could find. Because without that commitment, any player can get kicked to the curb at any time.
Because loyalty isn’t a two-way street in the NFL. Loyalty is a word used to get players to do deals they shouldn’t do. And then when it’s time to for the team to move on from the player, the team says, “It’s not about loyalty, it’s about business.”