Detroit Lions: First Impressions from Training Camp
The first session was closed to the general public, so the reports here are culled from various beat writers. Season ticket holders were also welcome to check out the opening festivities. Players were not in full pads, so there really isn't much to be gleaned in terms of actual football.
In fact, the news of the day was dominated by one rather significant off-field development...
No New Deal for Suh
Monday's news cycle was completely dominated by the team's announcement that it has suspended contract extension talks with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Team president Tom Lewand made the surprise announcement just before practice began. He refused to get into details of any negotiations, stating only that it "is the right thing" to do and he's "very optimistic" that a deal can still be reached after the season.
Lewand's full statement to the gathered media is available here, courtesy of the team's official website.
From a practical standpoint, this is a very risky maneuver by the Lions. They risk losing Suh without any return, as he will now be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
They can still use the franchise tag, but that would cost the team over $26 million for just the 2015 season. Of course, the process would then reset itself, as once again Detroit would need to lock him up long term.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen put Detroit's risk succinctly:
If Lions can't get Suh signed, his franchise tender would be $26.7 million in 2015 - or he becomes a unrestricted free agent in his prime— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) July 24, 2014
Suh is already the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, so that carrot doesn't carry much traction in the future negotiations. An expected bump in the salary cap does offer the potential for Detroit to use the tag, but that's an astronomical figure for any player.
This was not exactly the positive way to kick off training camp for a new coaching staff looking to establish a new and winning culture in Detroit. Hopefully it won't linger as a distraction for long, though that seems unrealistic.
No Worries About Suh's Condition
There has been much consternation about Suh and the Lions' failure to secure him to a long-term contract extension. And while that door now appears slammed shut for the next few months, at least Suh offered some hint of greatness to come.
When the veterans reported on Sunday, Suh was the talk of the town for far more positive reasons.
Suh showed up in phenomenal physical condition. As Kyle Meinke of MLive quoted center Dominic Raiola:
Raiola on Ndamukong Suh: "The guy looks more like Adonis now. He cut out more body fat and put on more weight, which is scary."— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) July 27, 2014
Looks like all those worries about Suh not working out with the team in OTAs was a molehill made into a mountain. Judging by the awesome shape Suh reported in, there's not much to worry about from a fan perspective in 2014.
In fact, the failure to reach an extension might produce a monster season from the two-time All-Pro. Between his motivation for a rich new deal and his outstanding physical condition, Suh could be poised for an amazing season this fall.
Golden Tate Is Ready for Action
Prized free-agent wideout Golden Tate made news for the wrong reason last week when he was placed on the physically unable to perform, or PUP, list for the start of camp.
Or at least that was the common belief, as noted by NFL.com insider Ian Rapoport:
#Lions Golden Tate and Ziggy Ansah will begin training camp on the PUP list, source says.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 23, 2014
Either the Lions were being overly cautious, or else Tate found some magic elixir to help heal his nagging shoulder. He was a full participant in Monday's practice, where the above photo was taken.
WR Golden Tate has been taken off PUP and will practice with #Lions today— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) July 28, 2014
Tate is an integral piece to Detroit's new offense, so getting him on the field right away and developing chemistry with Matthew Stafford is a big positive from the first day of camp.
The 1st Camp Casualty
One of the sadder aspects of training camp is the inevitable cutting down of the roster. Detroit wasted little time in making its first move, releasing undrafted free-agent defensive end Kalonji Kashama.
As Meinke of MLive noted, Kashama was waived with injury designation:
The Lions waived injured DE Kalonji Kashama (from Eastern Michigan). Leaves 1 open roster spot— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) July 28, 2014
Kashama was a long shot to make the team, though his athleticism and measurables offered some hope that he could stick on the practice squad. I even predicted as much recently.
That open roster spot could be filled before Tuesday's practice session, which is closed to the public. Wouldn't it be deliciously passive-aggressive for the Lions to sign a defensive tackle to send a little shot across the bow to Suh?
Kyle Van Noy Gives a Little Scare
There is nothing more disheartening than training camp or preseason injuries to key players. Losing a starter when the fire is friendly is a major downer for NFL teams, and it makes it that much harder to win once the games start to count.
Detroit got a little scare in the opening practice with second-round pick Kyle Van Noy. The outside linebacker left practice with a thumb injury.
It apparently was not serious, as he advised Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News:
Kyle Van Noy said he expects to practice tomorrow. Looks like a right hand or thumb injury. #Lions— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) July 28, 2014
Even so, it's a little scary to see such an important player exiting the action on the first day of camp. Thankfully no other injuries, not even a stubbed toe, were reported on Monday.