TIM AND MIKE: Is Ndamukong Suh a priority for an extension?

Posted Jan 17, 2014

Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara take a look at some of the first challenges facing new head coach Jim Caldwell and a possible contract extension for Ndamukong Suh

Jim Caldwell made his first impression on Lions fans in his introductory press conference Wednesday at Ford Field. In most cases, people thought he made a positive first impression.

Introductions are over, and the work has begun, as is the case for every coach in the NFL.

Looking back, did Caldwell make any lasting impression? And looking forward, what immediate challenges does he face?

Mike: The first impression was positive. That wasn’t a performance or a canned speech Caldwell gave at Ford Field. He expressed himself without falling back on buzz words or slogans. He was sincere in projecting his beliefs in what it takes to have a winning team.

He wants a fast, tough, smart team that knows how to play situational football and doesn’t shoot itself in the foot with penalties and turnovers. The Lions have some of those qualities, but not enough. They didn’t play smart at times, and they did not excel at situational football – particularly protecting leads and knowing when to play conservatively.

Caldwell has a natural ability to stand in front of a room of people and make each one present feel like he is talking to them directly.

What was your takeaway, and what items should be at the top of Caldwell’s list?

Tim: I tweeted right after I talked to him during his first visit here on Jan. 3 that I was impressed by him. He is very genuine and has a presence about him. You can certainly tell he comes from a family of 17 preachers.

His first order of business (which started Thursday with interviews) is getting his coaching staff together. Those are the guys that will ultimately have to take his message and philosophy to the players and implement it on the field.

I asked Caldwell Wednesday night what qualities he’s looking for in his assistant coaches and the one prevailing thought he had was he wanted guys who are good teachers. Coaches who know fundamentals and can make players better.

The defensive coordinator position, obviously, is going to be very important since Caldwell will have a significant presence on the offensive side of the ball, possible even as a play caller.

What other items could be high on his to-do list?

Mike: There are standard things that every coach has to do this time of the year. He’ll be at the Senior Bowl to scout players when practices begin Monday. If any vacancies remain on his staff, he can fill them out there.

The roster has to be evaluated to see who fits for 2014, and what positions need to be strengthened in free agency and the draft.

Obviously, what gets the most attention is what’s in store for Matthew Stafford. The good thing for Caldwell is that he’s inheriting a quarterback with talent who’s willing to work.

When you think back to other Lions quarterbacks, it is a compliment to Stafford that he has raised the standard to a point where 4,650 yards, 29 TD passes and 19 interceptions is considered a bad season for a Lions quarterback.

He has to clean up some things. Being more conservative in some situations is one of them.

With the head coach in place, the front office can work in some other areas, such as contract extensions. Is Ndamukong Suh a priority for an extension?

Tim: For sure. He’s holding a $22.4 million cap number for 2014. If Suh gets an extension it can free up more than $10 million in cap space this offseason.

The Lions had a similar dilemma in 2011 when receiver Calvin Johnson had a cap hit of $21.1 million. He got a seven-year deal and the Lions got instant cap relief.

Last offseason, Stafford had a $20.8 million cap number. He signed a three-year extension and the Lions got immediate cap relief.

I’d expect the same thing to happen with Suh this offseason. The Lions want him and all indications are he wants to stay in Detroit, too.

The starting point is probably the five-year, $55 million deal Geno Atkins signed with Cincinnati.

Is it the right move to sign Suh to that kind of money?

Mike: The alternatives have to be considered. One is the value of signing a defensive tackle compared to what can be done by spreading it out among two or three other players.

Another is what the defense would be like without Suh, and the answer is obvious. It wouldn’t be as good. In four seasons, Suh has been first-team All-Pro twice and a three-time Pro Bowler.

The defense is good against the run and good on third down, and a lot of that is because of Suh’s presence. He gets double-teamed regularly, which frees up others to make plays.

I have no doubt that Suh’s preference is to stay in Detroit and build a legacy as a player who was instrumental in winning a championship.

Extend him, I say.

Tim: I couldn’t agree more. I think Suh is only going to get better.

It does, however, put the Lions in a tough position next year when Nick Fairley’s contract comes due. If Fairley has a monster season in 2014, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, it might be very hard to keep two elite-level defensive tackles.

Ndamukong Suh and Nick FairleyDefensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Fairley has all the potential in the world, and might actually be a better pass-rushing defensive tackle than Suh, but Suh is the whole package. Suh's also durable and always in tip-top shape. If the big money has to go to one, it's got to be Suh at this point.

Mike: Every tackle who plays next to Suh will get pass-rush opportunities. There is no way the Lions would be better without him.

We should assume that deal will get done and move on to other issues, like the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile. The Lions got Ziggy Ansah and Larry Warford from last year’s Senior Bowl.

How much can they expect from this year’s game?

Tim: I will be down in Mobile finding out (shameless plug).

It’s a little different this year, though, because they aren’t coaching the game. It’s much different when you’re coaching because you spend so much time with the players and learn things you can’t see on a practice field. Things like: How does he take instruction? Is he good in a meeting room? What is he like off the field?

That’s the benefit of coaching the game and it’s those things last year that confirmed Ansah was their guy.