I watched "the Suh Stomp" along with the rest of the country on Thanksgiving. It is now seared in our memory as the lasting image from football on Thanksgiving Day 2011. More than the continued excellence of the Packers, more than the nail-biter between the Dolphins and Cowboys, and more than the Harbaugh family reunion, it is Ndamukong Suh's stomp -- unfortunately for the NFL -- that is the signature moment of the day.
I was standing in line at a coffee shop the next morning -- Black Friday -- listening to a couple talk. It was clear that they knew zero about football and didn't know Ray Lewis from Emmanuel Lewis, but they knew about the stomp. "Wasn't that awful that that big football player kicked the player on the ground? What's his name, something Suh?" Suh has transcended sports to become a household name; neither for his play nor his national Chrysler commercials, but for all of the wrong reasons.
No one disputes that Suh is an elite player. He has been instrumental in turning around a team that has long been a punching bag for the NFC North into a playoff contender. He came into the NFL as the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and has justified that lofty status with his play. Speaking of being the second overall pick...
Suh chose the right year to enter the Draft. He was part of the last group of top picks -- perhaps in the history of the NFL -- to sign exorbitant contracts. In fact, he became one of the highest paid players in the history of the NFL before ever having played a down.
As the second pick in the 2010 Draft, behind only Sam Bradford, Suh signed a five-year, $60 million deal with an eye-popping $40 million guaranteed. That is the third-highest rookie guarantee in history -- behind only Bradford and Matthew Stafford -- and makes him only one of four defensive players at that level -- along with DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
In the event there is a suspension coming for Suh, it is the right year for him to financially sustain it. After receiving an option bonus of $17.4 million earlier this year, his salary is a relatively low $1.4 million. Thus, were he suspended a game or two, Suh's financial losses will "only" be $82,000 per game, a paltry amount of his $40 million guarantee.
Even with his stellar play, there have been grumblings about Suh playing beyond the whistle and teetering between nastiness and dirty play. And with this reputation and some prior incidents on his brief NFL resume, he recently took a trip to Commissioner Roger Goodell's office to gain a better understanding of what is allowed and what comes with a price.
I, like many, gave Suh the benefit of the doubt, but on Thursday Suh lost my goodwill. Not only did he potentially cost his team the game -- the stomp came after a crucial hold on third down -- but he cost himself something much bigger: his reputation.
Team v. League Discipline
Obviously, Suh faces discipline. The only question is whether that discipline is coming from the Lions or the NFL. As to the difference, it lies on appeal.
In the event Suh is disciplined by the Lions and appeals, the appeal will be heard by an independent arbitrator.
In the event Suh is disciplined by the Commissioner and appeals, the appeal will be heard by -- you guessed it -- the Commissioner. This appeals process was one of the priorities the NFLPA sought to change in the new CBA, but its importance faded in the resolution of final issues.
The Lions have tipped their hand on this matter, saying in a statement "Subsequent discipline would be determined by the league office." Thus, when Suh receives his suspension, any appeal will go right back to the NFL office who, of course, originally meted out the discipline.
What will Roger do?
Suh's actions -- especially in light of his earlier behavior and meeting with the Commissioner -- appear to warrant harsher discipline than a fine. A suspension appears to be coming, with the question being whether it is for one game or longer.
In recent history, here is some precedent for discipline as to egregious on-field conduct:
- A five-game suspension in 2006 of then-Titan Albert Haynesworth for stomping on the face of Cowboys center Andre Gurode;
- A one-game suspension in 2007 of Cowboys safety Roy Williams after his third horse-collar tackle of the season;
- One-game suspensions in 2008 for the Bucs' Elbert Mack and the Jets' Eric Smith for flagrant helmet-to-helmet collisions (it was Mack's second in three games); and
- A one-game suspension in 2009 of Panthers' Dante Wesley for launching into a punt returner waiting to make a catch.
In 2010, despite the rash of violent hits -- especially during an October weekend with vicious blows to DeSean Jackson and others -- that saw the NFL step up its enforcement and penalties for such acts -- there were no suspensions.
With Commissioner discipline, not all cases are created equal. This is a high-profile incident with a well-known player in a nationally televised stage with no other games being played. That bodes towards stronger discipline.
My best guess is that Goodell will suspend Suh two games and fine him a week's pay beyond that. Thus, it will cost Suh two games of participation and three weeks -- or $246,000 -- of salary.
The saga of Suh continues.