Contract Extension Makes Sense for Both Ndamukong Suh and Detroit Lions

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJanuary 24, 2014

USA Today

There appears to be mutual interest in a contract extension that would be beneficial for both Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions this offseason. 

According to Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official site, Detroit has expressed a strong desire to negotiate a long-term deal for Suh, a core player for the franchise who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. And Suh has made it known that he wants to stay in Detroit, a place where he's earned three Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections during his first four NFL seasons. 

"I'd like to have Ndamukong around," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said this week. "He's expressed that he wants to be here long-term, so I think there’s a timeframe that might get done."

Mayhew's time frame isn't set in stone, but the Lions would prefer it gets done sooner rather than later. The team is entering this offseason strapped on salary-cap space, and Suh's enormous 2014 cap hit is a big reason why. 

Next season, Suh will count for $22.4 million against the Lions' cap, which is almost $7 million more than that allotted to quarterback Matthew Stafford and nearly 20 percent of the team's total cap. If the Lions fail to find common ground on an extension, Suh, Stafford and Calvin Johnson will take up an exorbitant $51.3 million of Detroit's cap next season. 

Top 5 Lions Cap Hits for 2014
Cap Hit
Ndamukong Suh$22.4M
Matthew Stafford$15.8M
Calvin Johnson$13.1M
Nate Burleson$7.5M
Louis Delmas$6.5M
2014 cap projected at $126M

According to Joel Corry of the National Football Post, the Lions are currently expected to be roughly $7 million over the projected 2014 cap of $126.3 million. 

The easiest way to free up room—needed for potential activity in free agency come March—would be to get Suh signed to a long-term deal, which has multiple benefits for both sides. 

For Suh, such a deal has a very good likelihood of making him one of the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history. 

Keep in mind, Suh is entering the last year of a deal that—under the NFL's former rookie scale—made him the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL. Being drafted No. 2 overall allotted Suh a deal worth $63.5 million over five years. 

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Veteran tackles such as Haloti Ngata and Geno Atkins have signed big deals since, but neither has beat Suh's average salary of $12.6 million. Ngata is making $12.1 million annually, while Atkins' five-year, $55 million extension averages $11 million. Gerald McCoy also got five years and $55 million as the pick directly after Suh during the 2010 draft. 

No other defensive tackle averages over $10 million per season. 

Leverage appears to be on the side of Suh, whose accomplishments since entering the NFL provide little reason for him to take a pay cut on his rookie deal. 

Since 2010, Suh has tallied 27.5 sacks, second only to Atkins among defensive tackles. His combined grade at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) over his first four years is a rock-solid plus-73.3, with 206 total quarterback disruptions and 125 stops, which PFF considers a tackle constituting an offensive failure. 

Those overwhelming numbers have led to three Pro Bowls (2010, 2012, 2013) and four All-Pro selections (2010-13), plus a Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2010. Despite what many consider reckless and occasionally dangerous play on the field, Suh's ability to dominate the game at defensive tackle is universally respected.

This past season was arguably Suh's best. Although he finished with just 5.5 sacks, Suh posted his highest overall grade at PFF (plus-39.9) and his most overall quarterback disruptions (72). He also batted four passes, made 33 stops and missed just three tackles.

Thanks in large part to Suh, the Lions finished 2013 ranked sixth against the run (97.9 yards/game).

Ndamukong Suh, Career Stats
SnapsSacksQB HitsQB HurriesStopsPFF Grade
Source: Pro Football Focus

He will certainly sit at the negotiating table holding most of the cards, and it won't be surprising if he inks a deal that resets the standard at defensive tackle. At the very least, Suh will gain even more short- and long-term financial security at a location where he wants to be. 

The Lions have even more reason to hammer out a new deal, but it's not a process they'll be foreign to completing. 

Before the 2012 season, Detroit faced the final year of Johnson's rookie deal, which was scheduled to pay out a restrictive $21.1 million. The Lions eventually redid his contract, agreeing to a seven-year extension worth $132 million. The new deal created almost $4 million in immediate cap space. 

Last offseason, a similar situation found a similar answer. 

With Stafford set to cost the Lions $20.8 million against the cap in 2013, Detroit got aggressive in locking him up long term. Despite having two years and a club option left on his existing deal, Stafford agreed to a three-year extension that was worth $53 million in new money. The deal bumped Stafford's 2013 cap hit down to $17.8 million, saving $3 million.

The Lions hope to accomplish something similar with Suh, in part to free up salary-cap space. Getting under the 2014 cap won't be a huge struggle, but the Lions wouldn't be able to add any mid-level free agents—like they did with Reggie Bush and Glover Quin this past offseason—without lowering Suh's cap hit. 

Mayhew will want the ability to at least shop for a free agent come March, especially with a new head coach—the team hired Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz—taking over. There will be a natural reshaping of the ingredients Caldwell asks Mayhew to provide. 

And the Lions general manager will know that his options get dicey if an extension can't be reached before next offseason.

Without a new deal, Suh could post another Pro Bowl season in 2014 and then enter unrestricted free agency with his sights set on an even bigger deal. And the Lions will be mostly helpless to stop him, as franchise tagging him in 2015 would cost nearly $27 million. 

Detroit probably can't afford to let that happen, as Suh is a core player and one of the few difference-makers for the Lions defense. He's arguably the top defensive tackle in the game, and a player the Lions spent the No. 2 overall pick on in 2010. To be handcuffed by the process and then watch him leave in free agency would be a significant blow. 

Agreeing to three lavish contract extensions over the course of three offseasons won't be the most comfortable feeling for the Lions, but it's a situation they'll have to live with. Detroit hit on three top picks just before the abolition of the former rookie scale. All three entered the league making massive sums, and all three have done enough to earn another round of loot. 

The two sides have both made it publicly clear that an extension would benefit both sides. Even with unbalanced leverage, those type of deals typically get done quickly. 

Expect Suh and the Lions to agree to an extension sometime before the start of the 2014 season. There's too much to lose otherwise. 


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