The Detroit Lions embattled defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh held back tears at the press conference on Sunday following the 20–24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since before there was an Ipod, and it seems as though the curse lives on as some questionable officiating didn’t help the cause. The reason for the tears may have been twofold for Suh, as the loss was heartbreaking for the Lions faithful, the game may have been Suh’s last as a Lion.
Suh is in the final year of his contract, and as a perennial Pro-Bowler he is likely going to command of one of the leagues top paying contracts for a defensive player (if not the top paying contract). A rare combination of size, speed and strength, Suh has shown why he was worthy of a top five selection in the draft, and why he’s one of the most feared defensive linemen in the league. The bigger problem for Detroit is they have a lot invested in the offense, and the balance of the defense needs some cap space to make it workable. I’ve read that were the Lions to attempt to franchise him the hit would be north of 25 million dollars. The team simply can’tafford to keep him (unless he was willing to take a pay cut). To date Suh has stated that his agent will be the one deciding where he plays next year. Without being Jimmy Sexton I can’t say for sure, but I can all but guarantee that he will not be back with the Lions next year.
I won’t use this article to go over where Suh may end up (I’ll do a free agent landing spot article at some point), but for the Lions I want to figure out which is the bigger loss; Suh or Sunday? The answer should be more obvious than the missed pass interference call (that wasn’t exactly missed), but let’s break it down.
If the Lions had managed to beat the Cowboys and moved on, how much further could they have gone? Could they have beaten the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra? The week prior the Lions had that exact matchup and lost by 10 and the Packers were resting players at times (intentionally or unintentionally). Assuming the Lions can somehow find a way to win that game can they go to Seattle and beat the Seahawks (I am assuming the Seahawks beat the Carolina Panthers)? Personally I feel like the odds of the Lions accomplishing both of these feats are 1–1000, but sure there is a chance, I guess. Now, what are the odds of them winning both those games and then beating the winner of the AFC? Please keep in mind that the Lions would have been on the road for all of these games, lost to the Panthers, Packers, and New England Patriots during the season and didn’t look worthy of the win against the Cowboys. So the loss in the wild card was unfortunate, but it’s not as if it would have changed the teams outcome in the playoffs. If anything this assures the Lions a slightly better draft pick next year.
As for the loss of Suh, well, this is something more difficult to measure, but the team record next year will give you a pretty good idea. Detroit has had an amazing defense this year, but that is due to a great defensive line. If Suh is not getting the pressure on his own he is drawing a double team that allows a teammate to work against a single man in the blocking scheme. Nick Fairley is a promising young player, but I feel like his numbers are inflated as he plays alongside Suh. The other part of this amazing defensive line play has been that it has been able to hide the lack of talent in the defensive secondary for the Lions. Glover Quin did make the Pro Bowl, but many of his big plays came on throws that were interfered with in the pocket. Next season will be the true test, and the team may be able to draft someone as good or better to fill the void, but my gut says that this team will not do nearly as well as they did this year. And the worst part is that they are right to let Suh go.
Ignoring all the incidents that have lead to Suh being labelled the dirtiest player in the game is impossible, and letting him go is the right move because of a little thing I like to call “the Peyton Manning impact”. When Manning signed the insane contract with the Indianapolis Colts I worried about the team long term. They spent so much money on one player they lacked the funds to properly support him on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Colts owner Jim Irsay said as much when Payton put up his numbers last year. If you spend over 15% of your cap space on less than 2% of the roster you don’t have a ton of room left to surround that player with talent at an equal level. So the Lions elected to try and have more starters at above average talent levels than one superstar on the defensive side, and I agree with the logic. The Seattle Seahawks have a multitude of great players, it’s how they have repeated their success despite some players leaving. The Baltimore Ravens are back in the playoffs, despite having a huge chunk of their core leave after their Super Bowl win.
An individual can only take a team so far. An individual can be planned for more easily than a team can be. Having a superstar is a wonderful luxury for any team, and it is always sad to see them go, but it’s not worth handcuffing the rest of the squad to keep them around.