BUCKHEAD, Ga. — Ndamukong Suh, the one-time NFL bad boy, is in a good place.
The 32-year-old tackle, released by the Dolphins last offseason after they tired of his decreased production and massive salary-cap number, had several options when he became a free agent. He even met with the Jets. Teams wanted to pay him a lot of money to be the centerpiece of their defensive line.
“Could’ve gone to two other teams that would’ve paid me a significant amount more money,” Suh said. “But I want to win, want to be around a good group of people and a great organization from top to bottom.”
So he signed with the Rams.
He would not earn as much (they gave him a one-year deal for $14 million) and would not be the best player at his position (Aaron Donald, the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year, would handle that role), but he would have a chance to clear his reputation.
And now he's in the Super Bowl.
“I felt L.A. was the right choice,” Suh said.
He has contributed to a ferocious defensive front for the Rams. His regular-season numbers may not sand out (4 1/2 sacks, 59 tackles), but the impact he has had in allowing Donald to dominate with 20 1/2 sacks and 59 tackles has been immeasurable.
“I think ultimate success — and how I judge myself as well — is how I influence other people around me and how I help them play,” Suh said.
In the Rams' two postseason games, Suh has 1 1/2 sacks, eight tackles and four quarterback hits.
“There’s naturally a level of urgency that’s raised when you get into the postseason,” coach Sean McVay said. “I think he’s been at his best these last couple games.”
More importantly, he’s been on his best behavior.
It wasn’t long ago that Suh was being fined regularly by the NFL for ugly on-field violations that included tossing Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme by his facemask, stomping the legs of prone Packers opponents Evan Dietrich-Smith and Aaron Rodgers, and clotheslining Jay Cutler of the Bears.
Since he’s joined the Rams, Suh has been a solid NFL citizen. Of course, that’s not to say he’s been a complete gentleman. His job remains terrorizing offensive players who dare come near him with the ball in their hands. And that streak of nastiness still flashes, though in somewhat more subdued forms these days.
For instance, he spoke of looking forward to “meeting” Tom Brady on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII.
“He’s one of the best in the league and going to be a future Hall of Famer,” Suh said. “It’s always a pleasure to hit him and take him down.”
Suh may never completely take down the reputation he built with the antics from earlier in his career. Those kinds of things stay with a player. But so do Super Bowl rings, so maybe winning one of those will help balance out the other stuff.
“There’s mishaps that have taken place early in my career,” Suh said. “Some people choose to run with it for years, some people choose to run with it for days. End of story. It’s up to them. I don’t know I’m going to change anybody’s perception. I think [winning a Super Bowl] is just something to add to the résumé that’s obviously amongst the elite. It’s a goal of mine.”
With free agency again looming, along with a 33rd birthday, this could be the last chance to achieve it.
“It’s been a lot of highs and lows,” he said of his career. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve always looked at this as everything happens for a particular reason. We may not see them right away, but I’m very proud for everything that I went through. And look at where I’m at now.”