Ndamukong Suh pledged $2.6 million to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, even before he receives his first paycheck as a National Football League player.
Suh can afford to be generous, thanks to a combination of timing and talent.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound defensive tackle is projected by analysts to be one of the top picks in today’s NFL draft, a year after the top five selections received an average of $62 million over five- or six-year contracts, including $28 million in guaranteed money. Such contracts may be eliminated if the NFL and its players’ union adopt a proposed rookie pay scale in the labor contract replacing the one that expires after this season.
“I definitely would say it’s good timing,” Suh, 23, said in an interview in New York. “We obviously don’t know what’s going to happen with the collective bargaining agreement.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is among those pushing for limits on rookie pay, saying it’s “ridiculous” to give more money to draft picks than proven players.
Quarterback Matt Stafford, the first pick in last year’s draft, got a six-year contract from the Detroit Lions worth $72 million, including $41.7 million in guaranteed money.
As the top choice in 2008, offensive tackle Jake Long received a five-year, $57.5 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. By comparison, the top 10 offensive linemen in the NFL had an average salary of $9.1 million last season.
No Lifestyle Change
Suh, whose mother was born in Jamaica and whose father is from Cameroon, said he won’t change his lifestyle or indulge in expensive cars or homes. He said it’s more important to give back to those who have helped him.
Last week, at the Cornhuskers’ annual spring football game in Lincoln, Nebraska, Suh pledged $2 million to the athletic department for its strength and conditioning program. He promised to give another $600,000 to Nebraska’s College of Engineering, where he graduated in December with a degree in construction management.
Suh said that after his football career he wants to work alongside his father, a mechanical engineer.
“The position I’m in to be drafted wasn’t just due to myself, it was because of helping hands from coaches, my parents, teammates and so forth,” Suh said during a media event for the Subway restaurant chain, which recently added him as an endorser. “I wanted to give something back to them.”
Suh won the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards as the nation’s best defensive player during his senior season and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting as college football’s best player.
He’s projected by ESPN to be taken second by the Lions tonight, when the draft makes its primetime television debut on the Walt Disney Co. network and the NFL Network.
“Quality big people that can play on every down and rush the quarterback are hard to find,” Jon Gruden, the former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders who is now an ESPN analyst, said on a media conference call last week.
University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is projected by ESPN to go No. 1 to the St. Louis Rams, who had a league-worst 1-15 record last year and cut quarterback Marc Bulger after nine seasons.
“I’d love to go No. 1, but I know that I may not,” said Suh, who had 4 1/2 sacks of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy in last year’s Big 12 Conference championship game. “St. Louis may need a quarterback or a different defensive tackle, so we’ll have to wait to see.”
Top 10 Picks
The Buccaneers have the third pick, followed by the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, the Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Oklahoma might have three players among the top 10 picks, with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and offensive tackle Trent Williams projected to join Bradford as early selections.
All three will be at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the first trio of teammates to attend the draft since 1995, when Penn State had running back Ki-Jana Carter, quarterback Kerry Collins and tight end Kyle Brady taken among the first nine selections.
Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Iowa offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga are also considered consensus top-10 picks by ESPN’s draft analysts.
Jimmy Clausen from the University of Notre Dame is projected as the second quarterback taken after Bradford, while Clemson University’s C.J. Spiller is regarded as the top running back.
While all will be millionaires after signing their rookie contracts, future first-round draft picks might not fare as well.
“It’s great timing for me, no doubt,” Spiller said with a laugh. “The money is nice, but I don’t really pay attention to that too much. I’m just worried about winning Super Bowls and running around playing football.”
Like the other draft prospects, Spiller is just waiting until tonight to find out where.
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.