O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What impact could Suh's change in agents have on contract negotiations?

Posted Jan 24, 2014

Mike O'Hara covers a variety of questions from this week surrounding Ndamukong Suh changing agents, Joe Lombardi's comments on Matthew Stafford and weather expectations for Super Bowl XLVIII

Burning questions from a busy week—Ndamukong Suh changing agents, new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s answer on being asked to fix a "broken" quarterback, Commissioner Roger Goodell’s proposal to give extra points the boot and what the weather might be like for Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.

Ndamukong Suh is in the process of changing agents after four years with Rosey Barnes, who negotiated the five-year rookie deal Suh signed when the Lions drafted him second overall in 2010. Suh is going into the last year of his contract, and the Lions have expressed interest in extending him.

Q. What impact could a change in agents have on Suh’s negotiations with the Lions?

A. The impact won’t be known fully until the outcome of negotiations between Suh and the Lions, and that could go in a number of directions.

Indications all along have been that Suh likes his position coaches, Kris Kocurek and Jim Washburn, wants to be a major part in building a winner here, and that he likes having Detroit as the base for his numerous interests on and off the field.

Changing agents most likely means that Suh is looking to take more control of his affairs and the direction his career takes at this point. Suh also likes to get paid, and he’s made big bucks with the Lions – with the prospect of a lot more coming in.

Suh already has made $51.8 million in his first four years. Based on production, market value and his entry into the league in 2010 before the NFL and the players union agreed to introduce a rookie wage scale, he’s been worth the money. Suh has been All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowler three times.

Barnes and his associates did a fine job of negotiating a contract that allowed Suh to meet incentives that added value to his contract. That’s what makes it somewhat surprising that Suh has notified Barnes that he is moving on and will sign with another agent.

Regardless of who he signs with, Suh has leverage in negotiations.

Q. What gives Suh leverage, and why is the choice of agents important?

A. Suh’s leverage is that he is a great, reliable, dedicated football player who works hard, practices hard and keeps himself in top condition.

Everything in negotiations begins with performance, and Suh has that on his side. And so is his contract, and its impact on the Lions’ salary cap.

His base salary for 2014 is $12.5 million. More important in terms of how it affects the Lions’ ability to sign free agents is that he counts $22.4 million against the cap without an extension, and $19.475 million if he’s released or traded.

The leverage for Suh is that he can lower his cap number with a new contract. That gives the team two important things – Suh’s services, and cap room to upgrade the roster – and Suh has the power to make that happen.

And that’s why it’s important to have an agent who knows the market.

Q. One more about the agent. There is speculation that hip-hop artist and mogul Jay-Z might be involved. Should that be a concern?

A. Not unless Suh wants to give up football and sign as a backup for Jay-Z. According to Forbes’ research, Jay-Z had a net worth of $475 million a year ago from a variety of interests. He didn’t accumulate his wealth by making bad decisions.

Jay-Z has added athlete-representation to his interests, and he is aligned with Creative Artists Agency, which represents some of the NFL’s biggest stars – Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees and the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.

Not only does CAA know market value, it has helped establish it with experienced negotiators such as Tom Condon who have market-makers for clients.

The bottom line: the Lions generally have kept their key free agents, and they’re likely to do the same with Suh.

Q. Fixing a "broken" quarterback – what is Joe Lombardi’s biggest chore in working with Matthew Stafford, and what should be made of the comment he made at the Senior Bowl about Stafford not being broken.

A. Lombardi was in a good spot as quarterbacks coach in New Orleans, working under an innovative head coach in Sean Payton and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

At 41, Lombardi was young enough that he didn’t have to jump at the first chance to take a coordinator job and get stuck with a quarterback with limited upside. That is not the case with Stafford.

Stafford struggled with turnovers in the last six games, but he still wound up throwing for 4,650 yards and 29 TDs against 19 interceptions. How he finished the season – and how the entire team collapsed – overshadows everything, and that’s fair.

But it stays something about Stafford that a 29-19 ratio of TD passes to picks is considered a bad year. Expectations have been elevated for a Lions QB, and it’s not because of anything Mike McMahon, Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Dan Orlovsky or Daunte Culpepper did. It’s because of Stafford.

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: Gavin Smith)

"The good news is that he’s not broken," Lombardi said in an interview with Yahoo!  Sports. "That much is clear. There’s an awful amount of talent there. His arm is something to behold. We used to sit in the Saints’ quarterback room and just marvel at his passes, all the depth, the whole field in play."

Q. If Stafford isn’t broken, what is he?

A. It’s like an Indy car not being "broken" because it makes a pit stop for fuel and adjustments. Stafford needs fine-tuning. It’s called coaching, and I have no doubt that he’ll like working with the new staff.

Q. Extra points – is Goodell’s proposal to end kicking extra points a good one?

A. Extra points are part of the game, even if kickers have gotten so good that they make more than 99 percent of them. Sometimes there is drama. When Stafford scored a touchdown against the Cowboys last season, the Lions still needed to kick the extra point to win the game, 31-30.

I don’t think anyone at Ford Field thought the game was ruined because the Lions had to kick an extra point.

Q. The freeze: Can the weather ruin the Super Bowl?

A. It might be interesting to watch on TV as players slide around in the snow, but for the competitors who have so much at stake and fans who dished out big money for tickets and travel, it can’t be nearly as much fun.

The NFL has to hope for decent weather – and then vow never to ever again hold the Super Bowl in cold weather in an outdoor stadium.

The odds are infinitely greater that America’s premiere sports event can be ruined by bad weather than an extra point can ruin a football game.