That should be the attitude now. The Detroit Lions’ best defensive player — and sometimes their biggest headache — will take his talents to South Beach, and you can cry about it or you can move on.
I’d choose the latter. Like LeBron James, Ndamukong Suh will bolt from a Midwest team that drafted him, a team he never led to a championship, for greener pastures in the state of Florida. But James’ departure was to join a trifecta of players engineered to win a championship.
Suh’s is not.
His is about money and ego, two things that — along with prodigious talent and a sometimes costly temper — have defined him in the past.
Suh will join the Miami Dolphins, the Free Press reported this afternoon, a team that went 8-8 last year, 8-8 the year before, 7-9 the year before that. The Lions actually have been to the playoffs more recently than these guys. Miami has had six coaches in the past 11 seasons and hasn’t seen a Super Bowl in three decades.
So this isn’t about getting a ring. There is no assurance that Suh, 28, will even make the Dolphins a playoff force, just as his being on the Lions the last five seasons didn’t earn them a single playoff victory.
The lesson you learn in football, over and over, is that it is never about one guy.
Keep reminding yourself of that.
Lions messed up, too
Because it’s true, the Lions are to blame for part of this: They bungled their salary cap over the years and were left with less to offer Suh, a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, than they might have had.
But that’s exactly because it’s never about one guy. Detroit’s front office borrowed cap space against Suh’s contract to sign other players, hoping to shape a winner. It didn’t work. Meanwhile, they had to shell out huge money to lock up two other superstars, wide receiver Calvin Johnson (in 2012) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (in 2013).
You won’t find NFL teams paying top-dollar contracts to a star quarterback, the league’s best wide receiver and its best defense tackle at the same time. It’s too rich. Something had to give.
In the end, it was Suh.
But even if the Lions had managed things better, there’s no assurance they could have done any more than use the franchise tag to keep Suh for another season. Next year, he could have bolted as well. I don’t know his motivations. No one does. Suh rarely talks and when he chooses to, it’s either cryptic or designed to get him maximum national exposure, something he seems keenly interested in.
Suh always struck me as a guy who wants to be Lawrence Taylor-meets-Warren Buffett. You don’t get that playing in Detroit. And he won’t get the Lawrence Taylor part in Miami, either, if that team doesn’t greatly improve. But in fine Warren Buffett tradition, Suh wanted to be the highest-paid defensive player in football, and he achieves that with a six-year deal worth about $114 million with $60 million guaranteed.
The Lions couldn’t match that.
So be it.
But if you’re laying blame on Detroit’s front office, save a little for the man himself.
Suh’s big decision
Because Suh is the one who demanded to be hugely compensated last year — when the Lions were coming off two losing seasons. Suh is the one who chose the 8-8 but cap-rich Dolphins over the 11-5 but cap-challenged Lions. He gets his ego stroked as Biggest Defensive Wallet in the League (until the next guy) and has the benefit of no state income tax.
That all adds up chasing the biggest money. But you know what often happens with guys who chase the money?
They don’t play as hard once they get it.
I can’t predict that for Suh. I can only note that last season — when his price tag was being established — he was a force. But there have been games in years past where he was oddly ineffective. And despite his presence, the Lions had two winning seasons in his five-year run.
Their challenge now is to make sure they don’t do something stupid in reaction. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley may be the next best thing, but the gap between these two is huge, and overpaying Fairley would be an equally big mistake. The Lions simply have to draft better, sign smarter and find game-changing players in places other than the No.1 or No.2 draft picks who cost a fortune.
And by the way, the Lions ranked No.2 in total defense in the NFL last year. Was that ALL because of Suh — or might the 10 other starters still yield a decent resistance next season? Maybe they’re tired of hearing how it all falls apart if No.90 leaves.
As for Suh, let’s face it: There are guys who compromise, guys who love their team, guys who want to play their whole career for one franchise. He’s not one of them. When the Lions offered him $58 million in guaranteed money (which is all you can count on in these NFL deals) they were within $2 million of the Dolphins — and Suhstill bolted. That shows any talk about his teammates, the city of Detroit or coach Jim Caldwell was hot air.
The Lions will miss him, absolutely, but there’s nothing to be done. Money wins. If Suh gets hurt next season, the Dolphins will be the ones crying as they sag beneath the weight of a single contract.
Free agents leave. It’s part of sports. For Detroit fans, today is either “Suh who?” or “Boo-hoo.” You choose. I’ll save my tears for something that really matters.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.