LIONS INSIDER

Ndamukong Suh’s cap number won’t affect Lions plan in free agency

Posted Mar 9, 2014

The Lions had less cap space last year entering free agency than they do this year and were able to get a first day haul of Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones in free agency

The start of free agency is just a couple days away and the Detroit Lions, like every team, has a wish list.

Don’t expect the splash we saw a season ago, when the team snagged running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin and defensive end Jason Jones in a Day 1 cache, but the Lions will find help.

There's a belief out there by some, however, the team won’t be able to accomplish anything in free agency without a new deal for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in place before hand.

That’s simply not the case.

Ndamukong SuhDT Ndamukong suh (Photo: AP Images)

While getting a new deal done with Suh, thus lowering his $22.4 million cap number, would give the Lions more room to play with, it’s not a must.

Even with the news Friday that Suh has signed agent Jimmy Sexton to represent him, don’t expect a deal to be done by the 4 p.m. start of free agency on Tuesday.

And don’t expect that to affect the Lions’ plans for the new league year, either.

“An opinion that any one deal can make or break a plan doesn’t fit,” Lions team president Tom Lewand told Detroitlions.com. “There is no one deal that makes or breaks a plan. The plan is a lot more dynamic and has a lot more pieces than that.

“It’s not impacting anything that we’re doing in free agency. It doesn’t impact our plan at all. It doesn’t impact what we’re getting ready to do when the league year starts next week.”

Simply look back to this time last year and the Lions were in a similar spot with quarterback Matthew Stafford heading into the 2013 free agency period.

There was a strong feeling from some outside the Lions organization at the time the team wouldn’t be able to do much in free agency without extending Stafford, who held a $20.8 million cap number. Despite the fact that Lions management said time and again that one didn’t relate to the other and the team wanted to extent Stafford for no other reason than to keep a good player under contract long-term.

“I said at the time that wasn’t the case based on a lot of the rationale I’m saying now,” Lewand said. “And in fact, (last year) we were able to do some things early in free agency, and as it turns out got Matthew extended later and we didn’t create a whole lot of room with that extension.”

It’s some of the same language the Lions are using about Suh one year later.

“The fact we won’t have an extension done with Ndamukong before free agency begins doesn’t affect that plan one bit,” Lewand said. “It doesn’t affect our valuation of the free agents, it doesn’t affect what our projection of our cap situation is going forward, and it doesn’t affect how we project eventually working an extension with Ndamukong out at some point in time.

“Much like last year, it didn’t change the fact that we wanted to get Matthew under contract at some point in time. He expressed an interest in staying just like Ndamukong has expressed an interest in staying. The timing and the eventual success or not success of coming to a deal doesn’t affect that.”

In fact, Stafford’s extension didn’t get done until July last year, but yet the Lions were able to make a big splash in free agency with less space than they have now.

That bears repeating. The Lions had less cap space a year ago this time than they do now. Around $5 million less, actually.

The idea that a deal with Suh has to get done for the team to get a couple of valuable starters in free agency just doesn’t fit.

When the Lions signed Bush, Quin and Jones a year ago, they did so with some crafty cap work. Those three deals counted less that $6 million on last year’s cap.

Those contracts were structured in a way that made them very cap friendly in the first year on the deal and then increased in value in subsequent years.

Those increases will correlate with the increases to the salary cap, too. The three deals count a little under $13 million this year, but the cap increased $10 million to $133 million, from $123 million last year, helping to stem that growth.

Future cap projections also have to be taken into account. A report by Pro Football Talk on Friday cited sources as saying the salary cap could grow to as much as $145 million next year and $160 million in 2016.

The Lions will need cap room to tender restricted free agent running back Joique Bell -- or sign him to a long-term deal (with a friendly first year cap hit) – and also to sign their exclusive rights free agents and their rookie class, but there’s enough room to accomplish all the Lions want to do.

Even more than there was last year when they had a very good offseason.