TAMPA, Fla. — Ndamukong Suh arrived in Tampa Bay just days after the clumsy parting with Bucs fixture Gerald McCoy.
But Suh made it clear right away that he didn’t join the Bucs to replace McCoy.
He already owned a reputation as a polarizing player. He has been voted the league’s dirtiest player by his peers and he’s racked up six figures in fines. Then, Suh taking McCoy’s No. 93 — and the Bucs’ allowing it to remain in circulation — drew criticism
But if there’s one thing that appears clear from listening to Suh, it’s that every decision he makes off the field is well-planned.
The five-time Pro Bowl selection has a sharp business mind. He calls Warren Buffett a mentor, invests in tech startups and plans to use his engineering degree to become a major player in real estate. Florida’s lack of a state tax helped lure him here.
So did the chance to play an attack-style defense under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers.
“I wanted to team up with (Bowles) and see how him and Kacy Rodgers could help me continue to grow,” said Suh, who is making $9.25 million this season. “I think as professionals we always want to find ways to continue to grow and meet and great people.”
Ultimately, the Bucs probably need Suh more than he needs them. Creating constant pressure up the middle is a key component of Bowles’ scheme, and if the Bucs weren’t going to pay McCoy, they needed another impact interior force to pair with second-year tackle Vita Vea. And signing Suh, who wasn’t entirely sold he wanted to continue playing this season, saved the Bucs nearly $4 million of cap room they could spend elsewhere.
Suh has done something only two other current Bucs — Beau Allen and Shaquil Barrett — have done: play in a Super Bowl. Suh played alongside two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald on a Los Angeles Rams team that lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl 53. The Bucs believe that using Suh alongside Vea at nose tackle will be a good fit. Before Vea was injured, they proved to be a strong pairing in training camp.
Ultimately, Suh provides the ability to play any defensive line spot in the 3-4 scheme.
“I think our (most) interchangeable group that we have is the defensive line,” Suh said. “We can play many different positions. I’ve done it in years past and always pride myself on being able to do that.”
Coach Bruce Arians admitted part of Suh’s appeal was adding edge to his defense. On the field, he is a remarkable contrast from McCoy, the jovial former defensive line leader. But another Bucs defensive leader of the past, Fox analyst Ronde Barber, said Suh has a much different persona off the field.
“If you sit down and talk to him just one on one, just have a conversation with him, you’re like, ‘This is the sweetest man I’ve ever been around,’ ” Barber said. “He’s huge and he’s like a teddy bear. And then you put a helmet on him and you’re like, ‘Uhh, who are you?’ It’s that same guy. There’s a big switch, and you should be OK with that.”
Last season marked the sixth straight season that Suh graded out at a 79.6 overall or higher (on a scale of 1 to 100) on the season, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. So, he’s been consistent. Last year, however, after posting remarkable 90.5 grades in Weeks 2 and 3, his highest weekly grades didn’t come until Rams’ divisional round (80.5) and conference championship games. (79.5).
In his brief time with the Bucs, Rodgers said Suh has been consistent. “This guy is the consummate professional, takes excellent notes, is good with everybody. That’s been really good.”
Suh is only signed for one season, and given his age. But Arians believes Suh can make an impact that could last beyond the year. Part of his role is making Vea better.
“Just be you,” Arians said he told Suh. “You know, you don’t have to come in here and be a ‘rah rah’ guy and all. Just be you, play hard like you always do and guys will follow you. He’s already helping guys and giving them tips. You know, to me that’s leading. When you’re helping your room get better, that’s leading.
“I always go back to (former Steelers start running back) Jerome Bettis,” Arians added. “He taught Willie Parker how to play to take his job, and that was the Steeler way. Your veteran guys coached your young guys to help us win. If they’d take your job eventually, so be it.”