Vikings

Should the Vikings Be Willing To Give Ndamukong Suh More Money?

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Ndamukong Suh-to-Minnesota speculation ramped right back up on Monday evening, courtesy of a timely reminder tweet from SKOR North.

But before you take your degenerate self across the border into Iowa and stroll into Diamond Joe’s for the sole purpose of placing a substantial wager on Suh landing with the Minnesota Vikings, let’s pump the brakes. Just last week, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported that the Vikings and Suh “aren’t remotely close” on a contract.

Before we dive into why the Vikings need Suh to be taken seriously in the NFC, let’s put a few narratives to rest.

The most popular fodder floating around Skoldierville regarding Suh is that he’s no more than a rotational player at this stage of his career. Granted, at age 35, most players who are fortunate enough to still be in the NFL are forced to accept a rotational role. But before we categorize the future Hall of Famer as just another guy, let’s be honest with ourselves.

Just last season, Suh played 63% of snaps for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that was third-best against the run throughout the NFL. His fellow defensive linemate and 2021 Pro Bowler Vita Vea played 56% of snaps. Defensive end William Gholston played 44% of snaps. Shaquil Barrett was the only member of Tampa Bay’s front four who played a higher percentage of snaps than Suh at 76%.

If Suh was allegedly a rotational player in 2021, what would that make Harrison Phillips (55% of snaps in 2021) and Dalvin Tomlinson (56% of snaps in 2021)? Make no mistake about it, if the Vikings hit the lottery and sign Suh, he immediately walks into TCO Performance Center as the unquestioned anchor of Minnesota’s interior defensive front.

And for a defense that is looking for drastic improvement against the run (26th in yards allowed and 29th in yards per carry last season), Suh would provide a much-needed boost to arguably Minnesota’s most glaring weak spot.

That leads us to our next baseless narrative that accompanies Suh these days:

Suh is no longer a stout run-defender.

While our friends at Pro Football Focus claim that Suh was the 56th-ranked interior defensive lineman — out of 83 players that played at least 190 snaps against the run — the numbers paint a far different picture about Suh’s impact against opposing rushing attacks. As a reminder, Suh and his 63% of snaps last season helped turn the Buccaneers into the third-best rushing defense. And the year prior, with Vita Vea only playing in five regular season games, Suh’s 74% snap rate helped lead the Bucs to a clean sweep in every category against the run.

If you recall, teams essentially started to wave the white flag in the run game against Suh and Tampa Bay’s front last year. Remember the Thursday night season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and Buccaneers? Armed with one of the best offensive lines in football last year, Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore didn’t hesitate to abandon the run after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on 18 attempts against Suh’s front four.

How about three weeks later, when Bill Belichick and his vaunted New England Patriots rushing attack hosted the Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football? The same offense that recorded the eighth-most rushing yards in all of football last season surrendered against Suh and his front in the run game. On the night, New England attempted a measly eight carries for negative one yard. Suh played 73% of the snaps that night.

And in Week 12 on the road against the NFL’s leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor? Just 83 yards for Taylor and 107 on the day for the Indianapolis Colts; Suh played 62% of the snaps and recorded a sack on Carson Wentz.

The only blemish on the season for Tampa Bay’s rushing defense came against the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, when Josh Allen‘s 109 rushing yards helped gash the Buccaneers for 173 yards on the ground.

But Suh and his dominance against the run reappeared in the playoffs. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ No. 1 rushing offense squaring off against the Buccaneers in the wild card round, the Eagles were unable to establish the run in a game that quickly got away from them. Philadelphia could only muster up 95 ground yards on the day. That was the first time they failed to eclipse 100-plus rushing yards since Week 5!

And against the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round? Suh saved his best game of the season for when the Buccaneers needed him most.

Despite his age and the unwarranted narratives that have clung to him throughout free agency, Suh is still every bit the dominant havoc-creator up front. And exactly the kind of player that can keep opposing offenses from sustaining long drives, thus preventing Minnesota’s dynamic offense from collecting dust on the sidelines for extended periods of time — as we saw too many times the past two seasons.

Back to the dilemma at hand that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings’ front office face at the negotiating table. Per Spotrac, the Vikings currently have roughly $8.7 million in cap space for their Top 51.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, the Vikings don’t appear to be exactly thrilled at the idea of gutting their remaining cap space to sign Suh. So how do the Vikings help close the gap to get Suh to sign on the dotted line?

Unfortunately for old-school Skoldiers who prefer their brand of football to be three yards and a cloud of dust, fullback C.J. Ham is the most expendable player on the roster who can help provide the Vikings with much-needed additional cap space. After all, Kevin O’Connell is coming from a scheme spearheaded by Sean McVay that not only led the league in 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three receivers) at 86% last year but a system that literally didn’t have a fullback on its 53-man roster — the same roster that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy back in February.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Since 2019, when McVay’s former assistants Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor took head coaching jobs in Green Bay and Cincinnati, there has been just one fullback who cracked the roster of these combined nine teams between the Rams, Packers, and Cincinnati Bengals. In LaFleur’s inaugural season as Green Bay’s head coach in 2019, fullback Danny Vitale made the 53-man roster and played a whopping 17% of snaps.

Was it a coincidence that Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs in this scheme when the Packers deemed it necessary to rid their roster of the fullback position in 2020 and 2021?

Since 2018, these fullback-less schemes from McVay, LaFleur, and Taylor have combined for five championship game appearances, three conference championships, and one Super Bowl. Suffice it to say, fullbacks quite literally don’t matter for McVay and his Millennial Minion former-assistants-turned-head-coaches.

With O’Connell joining LaFleur and Taylor as former Rams’ staffers turned head coaches, what are the expectations for Ham in this offense? At the end of the day, Ham was on the field for only 33% of the snaps last season while playing in a run-centric offense under the iron fist of Mike Zimmer. The Vikings hired O’Connell because they wanted in on McVay’s concepts — the same concepts that have led to some serious winning throughout the league. And these concepts don’t have any room for fullbacks.

O’Connell’s offense figures to be near the top of the league in 11-personnel this season. And since we already know that the Rams led the league with 86% of their plays coming by way of 11-personnel last year, it’s important to note that Taylor’s Bengals were No. 2 in 11-personnel at 77%.

Was it a coincidence that both the Rams and Bengals made the Super Bowl last season with defenses that ranked sixth and fifth, respectively, in stopping the run?

Is it a coincidence that Suh has played in two of the last four Super Bowls for two different teams?

If the priority is to win football games in 2022 and not cling to nostalgia of the good ol’ days with Zimmer, the Vikings have no choice but to consider cutting ties with Ham — and his $3.5 million cap hit — to bring in Suh. Ham currently has the second-highest cap hit among fullbacks in the NFL. If the Vikings decide to release Ham, that would create an additional $2.7 million, bringing their cap space to around $11.4 million.

That should certainly help close the gap in order for Ndamukong Suh to become a Viking and turn Minnesota’s biggest weakness into a strength overnight — all while simultaneously allowing O’Connell to unapologetically lean into the offensive scheme that he was groomed under.

It’s the same scheme that was on full display on Super Bowl Sunday back in February inside SoFi Stadium between the Rams and Bengals. And not a single fullback received an invite for the occasion. However, two elite run defenses didn’t hesitate to RSVP.

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Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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