The Raiders are serious enough about impending free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh that they’re “planning” to host a visit with him next week.
That news, furnished by the NFL Network’s Michael Silver, makes sense given Suh’s status at the top of the free agency market and the fact that the Raiders have the salary cap space to accommodate the four-time Pro Bowler from the Detroit Lions.
Other teams, of course, are planning visits as well, and it’s conceivable whoever gets Suh in the building first could make an offer that makes sure he never leaves. Free agency begins on March 10, although teams can begin making contact with players Friday.
By the time the bidding begins, the Raiders should have more than $60 million in salary cap space. Another $7.687 million came off the books Thursday with the retirement of running back Maurice Jones-Drew ($2.5 million cap number) and defensive end LaMarr Woodley ($5.187 million).
Suh, 28, is unusual in that he is hitting the free agent market at his peak value, rather than in decline. The Lions wanted to keep him, but because of previously restructured deals, a $26.9 million franchise tag was prohibitive.
The highest paid defensive player in the NFL is Houston’s J.J. Watt, whose six-year contract extension pays him $51.8 million guaranteed and $100 million if he reaches the end of the deal.
“Suh is going to get a record contract,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said. “It will be well north of $50 million in guaranteed money and probably push into the teens as far as average per year, approaching quarterback money.”
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, raised in a Green Bay organization that generally avoids the splashy free agent signings doesn’t believe in overpaying players, is expected to make a serious run at Suh.
ESPN sports business analyst Andrew Brandt, who worked in the Green Bay front office when McKenzie was in the scouting department, believes McKenzie won’t sit back and wait for the first wave to pass.
“I can surely see him being interested in a player like that and having the financial wherewithal to do that _ maybe for the first time in Oakland,” Brandt said. “I think the possibilities are out there for him. My sense is he will be active.”
Riddick, who worked in the pro personnel departments of Washington and Philadelphia when those organizations made poor choices in paying top tier money to free agents, said he doesn’t think McKenzie has any choice.
“ They have a bunch of cash sitting there and a bunch of cap space sitting there that needs to be used and unfortunately, they don’t have the players on their roster that are home grown that they can put that money in to right now so where else are you going to put it?,” Riddick said. “You’re going to have to put it in players that are coming from the outside because they’ve kind of been built all wrong and they don’t have the right kind of foundation. Their hand is kind of forced.”
Suh has let it be known that his agent, Jimmy Sexton, will determine the best deal. McKenzie has a relationship with Sexton dating back to when he played at the University of Tennessee in the early 1980s and Sexton was the equipment manager there.
At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, Suh has 36 career sacks, can tie up double teams to help stuff the run and has a mean streak, as evidenced by more than $420,000 in fines for player safety violations.