Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Training camp started with a decidedly negative tone, as Lions Team President Tom Lewand told the gathered media that the team was suspending contract negotiations with Ndamukong Suh until after the season.
This bombshell dominated coverage on the first day of camp. While the timing is a bit of a surprise, the suspension of talks is not. And that speaks a whole lot more about Ndamukong Suh than it does the Detroit Lions.
Suh has all the leverage right now and he knows it. He’s not afraid to use it or to flaunt it. Given the short careers and lack of guaranteed contracts, it’s hard to blame him for that, either.
The defensive tackle knows the Lions do not want to use the franchise tag on him next spring. That would cost them $26.7 million, which is almost $10 million more than Bears QB Jay Cutler will earn as the NFL’s highest base-salary player in 2014. In Spaceballs terms, that’s ludicrous speed for a non-premium position.
This is his big chance to cash in on the open market. Yet it seems Suh might be overestimating his own market value. And refusing to do business with the Lions this year could actually hurt him in the long run.
While there are no official, documented details of the contract talks, several “insiders” have offered pretty consistent figures when asked about what the Lions were offering and what Suh was (sort of) demanding. People whom I trust have told me the Lions offered substantially more than the 5 years/$53.3 million the Bengals signed Geno Atkins to last year. Substantially more. As in, Atkins would be ticked off from how much it dwarfs his then-record DT deal.
If Suh thinks he can do better than that, better than what Jay Cutler is making this year, I think he’s in for a rude awakening. His on-field dominance has always come with string attached, and those strings tend to get in the way during negotiations.
The Lions have consistently defended Suh. They’ve been very careful in dealing with his off-field peculiarities, like his bad driving or his reality TV shows. The Lions have largely overlooked his on-field transgressions, though some of that was a function of Jim Schwartz not-so-subtly encouraging that sort of playing on the edge. Even so, the team has always stood up for him even when it had to be done through clenched teeth.
In offseason negotiations, you’d better believe those gloves come off. Other teams will hammer Suh and his new agent, Jimmy Sexton. Imagine what happens if Suh gets another ridiculous personal foul like the illegal block on John Sullivan or the attempted decapitation of Brandon Weeden? That open-market number only goes down.
That’s why the Lions were smart to suspend negotiations. They’re already (allegedly and presumably) offering him far more than any other player at his position. It’s hard to imagine other teams ponying up over $16M/year for a defensive tackle, either.
Of course, Suh probably should have considered that another star defensive tackle is in the same boat as him. That would be Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, the 3rd pick in the 2010 NFL Draft one spot behind Suh. They are almost universally rated the top two DT talents in the league, and both are hitting their athletic primes as potential free agents.
What happens for Suh if McCoy signs with the Bucs for, say, $55 million over 4 years? At just under $14M/year, that would slot McCoy just a million below what Seahawks paid star corner Richard Sherman, a more impactful player on a team that has actually won something.
If that figure is good enough for McCoy, why would other teams bend over backwards to give $18M/year to Suh? He’s playing a very dangerous game here that McCoy is not going to undercut his market value with a contract that seems low to Suh and his advisors. Given that McCoy has a better league-wide reputation, it’s hard to see Suh having any chance to sign for more than what his most direct comparable talent will make.
As I tweeted out Monday night, this is not Detroit’s fault:
I don’t believe for a second this is a Lions issue. They were prob too optimistic but this Suh mess is not a result of “same old Lions”
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) July 29, 2014
Suh would be doing this same thing with any other team, not just the Lions. It’s how he handles his business. He’s got an innate tone deafness to these sorts of things.
Perhaps the Lions have finally found some fiscal responsibility. After paying Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford above-market value contracts, maybe they’ve learned their lesson.
It might even be part of a grander plan.
Let’s say they’ve decided to hold the line on Suh at a hypothetical $56M over four years with $35M guaranteed and he opts to try his luck elsewhere. That’s an awful lot of free cap room and cash to throw at upgrading other, more important positions on the roster.
What’s that, you say, defensive tackle isn’t important? Well, the three players who are widely regarded as the best 4-3 tackles in the league are Suh, McCoy and Atkins, with maybe Jurell Casey, Henry Melton or Kyle Williams in the next tier. How many playoff wins do those players account for?
One. Melton’s Bears won a playoff game in his rookie season, a year where he was not a starter. Having studs at defensive tackle has simply not equated into playoff success.
Maybe the Lions opt to use the money originally budgeted for Suh on a top-shelf cornerback. Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams will all be free agents next spring. Maybe some of that money can go towards a real, viable backup quarterback in case the unthinkable happens to Stafford. It doesn’t get talked about enough the major downgrade the Lions made in going from Shaun Hill to Dan Orlovsky this year.
The Lions could sign Cromartie and a guy like Matt Moore or Blaine Gabbert (don’t laugh). They would still have enough money left over to sign a defensive tackle to take Suh’s place. How about Terrence Knighton or Jared Odrick? Heck, they might be able to afford both!
And that’s another part of the football calculus that Suh is missing. Teams with overpriced stars don’t win. The current NFL model is to do what Seattle, New England and Green Bay have done, locking up very good players to smart deals and surrounding them with talent that is able to make more than the league minimum. If anything, teams are trending in the opposite direction from the monstrous cap hits that Suh covets.
I applaud the Lions for ending the madness. Do I want to see Suh in Detroit until 2020? Hell yes, he’s a phenomenal, game-changing talent. But it has to be at a prudent cost, and right now it seems Suh has no regard for prudence. His obstinance and greed could very well be his downfall.