Ndamukong Suh has become the NFL’s mercenary. That’s by design.

Suh has had a long and productive career on the defensive line. He was well known after a great college career at Nebraska and becoming the second pick of the draft. Casual fans might know him from some cheap shots that led to Suh getting a reputation as a dirty player.

People might not know he’s one of the sharpest business minds in the game.

Suh is in his second Super Bowl in three years, with a pair of different teams. He made the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams, who he signed a one-year contract with, then jumped to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a pair of one-year deals and helped the Bucs to Super Bowl LV.

On a Super Bowl media call Wednesday he was serious and business-like. It was a glimpse into what Suh must be like at the negotiating table.

Ndamukong Suh’s strategy pays off

By now, everyone is aware of how NFL teams operate when it comes to contracts. They will hand out long deals for a lot of money, but every deal is practically year to year because base salaries are usually not guaranteed. That gives the team leverage. If a player is good they’ll stick around, sometimes at a salary that made sense to the player three years ago but is now a friendly deal for the team. If injuries cause a player’s value to slip, or the team just decides to go with a cheaper option, the player will be cut and the team saves his seven-figure salary.

Suh is also year to year, but that’s his choice.

Since being cut by the Dolphins halfway through his landmark six-year, $114 million deal, Suh has made the decision to sign one-year deals. There is always a signing frenzy when free agency starts, but all three of Suh’s one-year deals have come well after free agency started. His first deal with the Bucs wasn’t signed until late May.

He’s always in demand. Those three deals have totaled $31.25 million and because they’re one-year deals, he has actually made all of that money.

Not every player is good enough to pull that off, but for Suh it has been brilliant.

“I’ve been offered multiple-year deals, especially last year, and really just wanted to have an opportunity to maximize the opportunities that were afforded to me,” Suh said. “Obviously there’s negotiating power on both sides.”

Suh just helped Tampa Bay make the Super Bowl. He was a big part of a defense that finished in the NFL’s top eight in points and yards allowed. Even though he just turned 34, he’s still a very good defensive interior lineman in a league that always needs big bodies in the middle.

And he’ll be a free agent again in March, ready to make a few more million from a team that needs him.

Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh has played three straight seasons on one-year deals. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh has played three straight seasons on one-year deals. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Suh has talked business with Warren Buffett

Suh didn’t just stumble upon his strategy of maximizing his earnings. He has broken down the business side of the game from all angles.

Suh appeared on the Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast in 2019 and said when he’s considering his next move he’ll take into account things like that state’s income tax, and the road games a team is scheduled to play because each state taxes differently. Suh told Bloomberg he talks to famous investor Warren Buffett about business.

Suh has a background in engineering — he has a degree in construction management — and said that the numbers side of NFL contract negotiations fits into that. He said he wants to understand the numbers and clauses in his contracts, and not just trust an agent.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that he has an eye on business when he retires from the NFL.

“My off-field aspirations definitely always have a business aspect to it,” Suh said. “This league has afforded me a ton of opportunities and I look forward to more.”

Just because Suh seems to relish the challenge of getting the most out of the game financially as he can, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about what happens on the field. You can’t play 11 years at a high level without taking the football side of things seriously. He lost his first Super Bowl with the Rams, and even though he’s a year-by-year hired gun by trade, he still wants a ring. He called holding a Lombardi Trophy “the ultimate goal.”

“Everything happens for a reason and I’m where I need to be,” Suh said.

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Originally published