The decision announced Monday by Lions President Tom Lewand leaves open the possibility that the 2014 season will be Suh’s last in Detroit, but Lewand continued to express optimism that the Lions and Suh ultimately will reach agreement on a long-term deal.
Lewand’s announcement was unexpected. While he did not elaborate fully on what triggered it, there was a strong indication that the decision was made by Lions management – and not by mutual agreement of the two sides -- because of the potential distraction created by ongoing talks with no sign of progress.
Suh is on the last year of a five-year, $63.5-million contract he signed when the Lions drafted him second overall in 2010. Suh has a base salary of $12.5 million for the 2014 season and a salary-cap number of $22.4 million. The cap number is a calculation based on base salary and other bonus payments.
Suh was in good spirits when he spoke to the media after Monday’s practice, but he would not talk specifically about his contract except to confirm that it was the Lions’ choice to halt talks.
“It wasn’t my decision,” he said. “I didn’t say that.”
He put off commenting on any other questions directed specifically at his contract.
“I’ve said from the very beginning I won’t,” Suh said. “Keep it that way.”
Suh also reiterated what he has said often about wanting to play in Detroit.
“I’ve said many times I want to be here,” he said. “No more questions to answer about that. I’ve said it before. We’ve got great young talent.”
Suh’s contract status has been a talking point locally and nationally since the end of last season. Earlier this year, Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew said he expected to have a new deal done before the free-agent period began in March.
Mayhew reiterated Monday his sentiment that he has a good relationship with Suh and that he still expects him to sign back in Detroit, and Suh reaffirmed that he and Mayhew have a good relationship.
Regarding distractions, Lewand referred to Sunday’s pre-camp press conference, when head coach Jim Caldwell, center
“That’s not what they should be focused on,” Lewand said, referring strictly to Raiola and Tulloch. “That’s not the questions that they need to be asked. This will take it off the table for those guys.
“It’s one additional consideration. Not, obviously, the sole consideration but one additional consideration.”
Suh admonished the media for asking teammates about his contract.
“I would ask you guys not to bother my teammates about something that they have nothing involved in,” Suh said. “For sure, I definitely don’t want them to have to answer any questions about it.”
With the end of talks, the risk clearly falls on the Lions’ side because of the chance that Suh will walk away after this year.
Suh is in a position where he’ll have more leverage in contract negotiations than at any other point in his career. He is a dominating interior lineman, and the ceiling for his next deal is whatever any team is willing to pay.
From his standpoint, barring injury he’ll get a big contract from somebody. It doesn’t have to be from the Lions.
Lewand would not speak about any specific demands Suh and his agent Jimmy Sexton have made.
“I’m not going to get into the details,” Lewand said. “Every negotiation is different, and this one has its own character to it. We’ve had productive conversations, and I think it’s the right thing for this team, and it’s the right thing for him.”
Without a contract extension, Suh can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. However, the Lions would have the right to apply the franchise tag, which would drastically limit his ability to get offers from other teams. The franchise tag would pay Suh almost $27 million on a one-year deal.
Lewand did not say if the Lions would use the franchise tag, but he did say there are options available.
In explaining optimism that a deal can be reached after the season, Lewand cited the recent cases of linebacker
“We’ve had a lot of success over the years getting contracts done in February and March,” Lewand said. “We’ve got a good track record. It’s been our experience that when you have two willing parties that are focused on a common goal, you can get that done regardless of the timing.”