Suh: Money was a 'factor' in joining Dolphins

Lynn Henning The Detroit News

Davie, Fla. — What you saw Wednesday at Dolphins headquarters, as Ndamukong Suh sat at a dais flanked by adoring new bosses, was how out-gunned were the Lions in keeping a superstar defender in Detroit.

Suh's status as the NFL's most glamorous free agent ceased when he formally signed a six-year deal for $114 million that makes him property of Miami and owner of the richest deal ever paid an NFL defender.

Yes, Suh acknowledged, money was a "factor" but not primary in his verdict. Yes, he said, Florida's absence of a state income tax was a "consideration" for a 28-year-old man who considers himself "a very smart person."

But what you saw also Wednesday was how the Dolphins had thoroughly charmed a player who in Miami can craft a playoff team as he, perhaps, redesigns his own persona.

The Dolphins already were helping there.

His new owner, Steve Ross, a native Detroiter and billionaire who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the University of Michigan, talked about a phone call he had gotten from another business baron Monday.

Warren Buffett.

"Warren, whom I happen to know, said: 'Congratulations, you're getting a great person in NdamukongSuh,' " Ross related, all before mentioning an email he had received earlier from former UM basketball star Jalen Rose.

"Congratulations," Ross quoted Rose as writing, "you're getting a great player, also a better person."

These tributes, which made one wonder if Suh had signed an NFL contract or been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, flowed also from Dolphins front-office generals Mike Tannenbaum and Dennis Hickey, who sat on either end of Suh and Ross.

How the Lions could credibly have retained Suh, not only with matching money but with a reputational overhaul Miami is helping engineer, is something to consider as Lions Nation mopes over watching a player so gifted and so destructive move elsewhere.

Suh spent his share of time in New York's NFL offices discussing fines, suspensions or both, from his five seasons in Detroit. He demolished the line of scrimmage. And he sometimes crossed the line of decorum with stompings, steppings and with general mayhem the NFL didn't always appreciate.

The Dolphins know all about this. They still wrote the fattest check in NFL history for a defender they expect to help turn an 8-8 team into a playoff mauler.

"Well, I mean you have to look at the person," said Ross, with as much unease as a billionaire can display. "Knowing him, we all read the papers. We know what happened.

"I thought we were looking at him as a person who has accomplished much both on and off the field. If people did something — I'm not saying he did — people learn from their mistakes."

Suh all but shouted "amen." He followed up, saying he had been "misunderstood" and "that's related to people having their own opinion and sticking with it, rather than getting to know me.

"People learn from mistakes and become better human beings, as Mr. Ross said."

Uh-huh. This is a new and tender embrace he feels in Miami, although Suh was careful to begin his remarks Wednesday with a peace pipe to the Lions and spurned fans who, in some instances, are incinerating their "Suh" jerseys.

"I had a great time in Detroit," Suh said. "Fans were exquisite to me, especially the people in the organization. To me, it was nothing short of an amazing time."

But not sufficiently amazing, apparently, to merit talking about a new contract with the Lions.

Were there any earnest discussions ahead of his courtship by the Dolphins, he was asked.

"What do you mean by earnest?"

That conversations were meaningful, financially.

"Yes, without question," Suh answered, not elaborating.

He sat next to Ross in togs that suggested Wednesday he hadn't yet embraced Miami entirely. He wore a silver, checked sport coat, a dark blue tie and navy slacks. His wardrobe more resembled Lions colors than the Dolphins' aqua and orange.

But he's adapting. Suhs rearranging himself, competitively and personally.

"I want to be a strong defensive cast member with a very progressive group," he said. "That's probably the most exciting part. That's where you build a culture."

Or, in his case, rebuild — a brand, a name, and maybe, this time, a better playoff team than he was able to help deliver in Detroit.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Lynn_Henning