The Detroit Lions began their training camp season by announcing at the start of practice that they have postponed contract negotiations with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014-2015 National Football League season.
Team president Tom Lewand asserted the team remains optimistic that they will eventually strike a deal with Suh, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, but confirmed talks for such a deal have been halted until 2015.
“In light of where we are and most importantly, in light of the season and keeping the focus where it should be, we have decided to table our contract discussions with Ndamukong until after the season,” Lewand said. “I think it’s the right thing for us to do, I think it’s the right thing for the team, I think it’s the right thing for everyone involved and allows us to keep the focus where it belongs.”
Detroit began the season on Monday, July 28th, by taking the field shortly before 3:30 p.m. for their first practice of training camp. But with players loosening up for this celebratory occasion, Lewand stood just feet away delivering news that will overshadow the next few days of this camp.
Suh is starting the final year of his rookie deal and carries the largest cap hit in the league this NFL season at $22.4 million. Detroit wanted to extend his contract before the start of free agency, which would have freed up cash to make other acquisitions.
Detroit’s general manager Martin Mayhew said he thought the sides would strike a deal before the start of free agency in March. But negotiations have not gone as planned. “It’s been a complicated process,” Mayhew said. “I thought it would get done, at the combine, around the start of free agency, possibly. After the draft, I thought probably by now. And now, I think probably next year.” Mayhew made it clear the Lions suspended negotiations with Suh, and not the other way around and confirmed that this was not a mutual decision.
It seems for all the dialog about Suh’s contract not being a disruption, it was in fact a major talking point of team members during organized team activities.
“Having contract issues during the year is not a good formula,” Mayhew said. “I don’t think it’s conducive to guys being focused and playing their best. I know a lot of players think they can handle that situation, but sometimes they can’t, and they don’t know until they get into it. Also, I think it’s not really fair to the rest of our team. We’re focused on playing football here. I don’t want people asking other players about players’ contracts. We have other guys whose contracts are expiring as well, you know. I just did not think it was a good situation for us to move forward in. I thought it would be better for us to focus on playing football this year, and that’s where it came from.”
So why did negotiations with Suh hit a deadlock months after the Lions thought they would already have a deal?
Mayhew was not forthcoming about the details, instead repeating what has been the Detroit’s statement to the media: The team wants Suh long-term, and says Suh wants to remain a Lion long-term, and such negotiations usually culminate with a deal. Suh, who has not commented on the failed negotiations before the start of training camp, has said repeatedly that he wants to stay in Detroit. But that might change quickly after the decision to stop contract negotiations.
The Lions management has insisted there is nothing devious going on, and that the sides simply have not had enough time to reach on an agreement on a complicated deal for a star player. “He’s telling the truth, and we’re telling the truth,” Mayhew said. “He’s told me he wants to be here, I have a good relationship with him, and I know I want him here. I don’t know what else to say.”
If that’s the case, then why has a deal not been reached between the Lions star defensive player and management?
The urgency for the Lions to strike a deal is important for two reasons. One, Suh is one of the game’s most dominant defensive tackles, and the Lions are built around his presence. And second, they are going to have to pay Suh at the end of the season, even if he walks. Suh could walk away with $9.7 million in dead money in 2015.
ESPN reported that the Lions are “not optimistic” such a deal will be possible, but Mayhew and Lewand were adamant they believe an extension is only a matter of time.
If the Lions cannot reach an agreement with Suh quickly and successfully, they could end up watching one of the NFL’s best defensive players walk away from their franchise next offseason.