The Miami Dolphins have a storied history in the NFL, with the franchise’s 1972 squad still the only team in league history to go undefeated for an entire season, including winning the Super Bowl. But the Dolphins have taken a downturn in recent years, with only one playoff appearance since 2015.
There is a specific event in 2015 that may have paved the way for the Dolphins to have the kind of disappointing run that they have had since then. That move was signing former first-round draft pick DT Ndamukong Suh.
The Dolphins sign Ndamukong Suh
The Detroit Lions took Suh with the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, and he lived up to expectations, for the most part, during his time with the time. He was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team and won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010, and he made the Pro Bowl each year from 2010-2014, except 2011.
He was a free agent after the 2014 season, and the Dolphins signed him to a six-year, $114 million contract in March 2015, hoping the former top prospect would help shore up the defense.
A disappointing run
The Suh signing didn’t go as planned for the Dolphins. The defense gave up 373 points in 2014, and after Suh joined the team that number went up to 389 points in 2015. In 2015, his sacks dropped to six after recording 8.5 in 2014, and his tackles went up from 53 the season before to 61, but his solo tackles went down, as did his tackles for a loss — going from 21 to 17.
Suh’s most recent Pro Bowl appearance came in 2016, when he had 72 tackles, but just 11 of them were for a loss. And his numbers have only gone down from there. But he had just five sacks in 2016, and his sack total has continued to drop since then, with 4.5 sacks in 2017.
That season also saw his number of tackles plummet to 48, with nine of them going for a loss. And that 2017 campaign would be his last with the Dolphins, who cut him in March 2018 — just halfway through his six-year deal. Releasing the Nebraska alum with that much time left on his contract led to big financial complications that have helped pave the way for the team’s recent failures.
Ndamukong Suh’s dead money hurts the Dolphins
With Suh’s contract still on the books for 2018 and 2019, the Dolphins took a hit with the cap. They had a dead cap hit of $9.1 million in 2018, and that rose to $13.1 million the following season. Suh’s contract is finally fully off the Dolphins’ books now that the 2020 league year has started. Having that dead money limited what the Dolphins could spend in free agency, which in turn hurt their on-field product, as they couldn’t put a competitive team on the gridiron.
That was reflected in a 7-9 record in 2018 and 5-11 in 2019. They don’t have much promising talent on their roster, so they’re looking to the draft to help them rebuild. Last year, they traded T Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills to the Texans in exchange for a 2020 first-round draft pick and first- and second-round picks in 2021.
But before any of that happens, they’re being aggressive early in this free agency period. They have already signed CB Byron Jones, DEs Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson, OL lineman Ereck Flowers, and RB Jordan Howard. Getting Suh’s cap hit off the books has allowed the Dolphins to go out and spend money to bring in free agents they think can help the team.