Updates from Tuesday, July 29
#Lions want an informed Ndamukong Suh to sign a deal he’s happy with. I’m told DET is willing to allow him to explore FA to gauge his market— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 29, 2014
Updates from Monday, July 28
Kyle Meinke of MLive.com reported on contract negotiations between Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions:
Lions tabling Ndamukong Suh negotiations until after the season, per Tom Lewand. Huge news.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) July 28, 2014
Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com had more on Suh:
Tom Lewand said he is still optimistic a deal can get done after the season— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) July 28, 2014
Andrew Brandt of ESPN also weighed in on Suh's situation in Detroit:
$27 million. Good luck with that. RT @jkatzenstein: Lewand didn't rule out the possibility of using franchise tag on Suh.— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) July 28, 2014
Following the news, Suh commented on his status in Detroit (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press and Meinke):
Such said it wasn't his decision to halt contract talks— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 28, 2014
Suh said he has a "great" relationship with the front office. "Nothing's going to change."— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 28, 2014
Ndamukong Suh's reaction to Lions cutting off negotiations: "I have no reaction."— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) July 28, 2014
No player has a bigger cap hold this season than Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. As the Lions and Suh prepare to open training camp this week, though, there is less optimism than ever about decreasing that cap number with a long-term extension.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Thursday that negotiations between the two sides have hit a stalling point:
Lions are not optimistic about signing Ndamukong Suh to a new contract. He enters camp counting 22,412,500 against sal cap.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) July 24, 2014
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press weighs in on the chances of a deal getting done prior to the beginning of the season:
Like i said earlier this week, new Suh deal not likely to happen this week, still think it could next month.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 24, 2014
For Suh, the incentive to do it then would be to mitigate injury risk during season.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 24, 2014
If Lions won't negotiate during season, that's your deadline (albeit artificial) to get a deal done.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 24, 2014
Suh, 27, is heading into the final season of a five-year, 63.5 million deal he signed with the Lions as a rookie in 2010. He also holds a player option for the 2015 season, which he could decline to test unrestricted free agency. He and the Lions' tentative deadline to complete a deal is Week 1 of the 2014 season, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Here is where the situation gets sticky for the Lions. Suh is among the best interior linemen in football and the type of talent a team can structure its entire defense around. Detroit is also mired in salary-cap difficulties, in large part because a majority of its star core was drafted before the NFL instituted a rookie wage scale in 2013.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in particular signed high-salaried rookie deals and then received extensions commensurate with their on-field performance. Stafford signed a three-year, $53 million deal that guaranteed him $41.5 million. Johnson inked a seven-year, $113.46 million contract with $46.75 million in guarantees.
Those deals come with escalating cap holds that the Lions will likely contend with multiple restructurings that guarantee more money. These types of deals also make it far more difficult to add depth around the margins, and the Lions have been among the league's thinnest teams in recent seasons.
The issue here is that Suh is in position for a similar contract. He's a menace against both the run and pass, compiling 186 tackles and 27.5 sacks over his four seasons. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him 10th among defensive tackles in run-stop percentage and second in pass-rushing productivity.
Marcell Dareus, Gerald McCoy and a healthy Geno Atkins are the only players in his general strata.
"Ndamukong is a stud," Mike Barwis, Suh's strength coach, told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. "...He trains very, very hard. Guys finish up the workouts, and he's the guy in there who stays extra to condition beyond what's demanded of him, and these workouts are pretty hellacious."
As elite pass-rushing talent becomes more desired leaguewide, Suh's value is only going to go up. With his contract scheduled to give him a base salary of $12.5 million in 2014—base salary in the NFL is the amount a player gets paid week to week—he's under little incentive to play ball here.
The Lions, on the other hand, might want to be more proactive in ramping up negotiations. As Mortensen notes, Suh's franchise-tag charge for 2015 would be $26.7 million. Though most franchised players are given the average of the five biggest contracts, said player cannot make less than 120 percent of his previous salary.
Given Detroit's precarious cap position, that's an impossible sum. Rather than franchising him, the Lions would likely allow Suh to enter unrestricted free agency, where they would risking losing him for nothing. While Suh has maintained staying in Detroit is his first priority, a team desperate to make a splash could make him an unrefusable offer.
“Without question,” Suh told reporters in June when asked whether he'd like a long-term extension. “I don’t think anybody wouldn’t want to be a Lion. Obviously I’ve been here and understood what’s so great about this team, the potential that we have.”
It's a risk general manager Martin Mayhew seems willing to take. Suh is one serious injury away from depressing his value on the open market, which itself is up for debate. The former Nebraska star has been fined and suspended numerous times for his behavior on the field, including a two-game ban in 2011 after he stomped on then-Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith.
There is a risk-reward equation every team must weigh before making Suh an offer. With training camp opening, it seems the Lions have run their own equation and decided they'd rather risk the uncertainty of Suh leaving over awarding him a huge extension.
We'll see if that decision pays off.
All contract info via Spotrac.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.