March 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Chris McCosky

Lions prove they're all in for 2013

After restructuring Ndamukong Suh's contract, the Lions were able to re-sign safety Louis Delmas and still have some money left over. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)

Allen Park -- So I was knocked out of commission this week by the most evil flu strain I've ever encountered.

Did I miss anything?

Just a bit, huh? Well let me, in my still-groggy state, chime in on a couple of issues.

First of all, great work by Lions president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. When Lewand said the team would be "selectively aggressive" during free agency, he was expecting to be able to work a contract negotiation with quarterback Matthew Stafford to free up salary cap space.

When that didn't happen, Lewand already had a backup plan, which was to do a simple restructure of Ndamukong Suh's contract. That saved the team less than $8 million, where a Stafford extension would have been $10 million at least.

Yet, by front-loading the contracts, he was able to fit their four free-agent targets under the cap.

Chris Houston (five years, $25 million) counts $2.3 million on the cap this season.

Reggie Bush (four years, $16 million) counts $2 million on the cap this season.

Glover Quin (five years, $23.5 million) counts $2.03 on the cap this season.

Jason Jones (three years, $9.5 million) counts less than $1.8 million on the cap this season.

The Lions were able to sign four players, all of whom are projected to start and play vital roles, for a little more than $8 million on the cap. That's good work.

They still had some $5 million left before Friday, when they re-signed safety Louis Delmas (two years, $9.45 million). The rest of that money probably will be used on their free agents (Jason Hanson, Lawrence Jackson?).

Quick aside: I have seen some fan chatter critical of Stafford for not doing an extension. That's crazy talk. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Stafford had all the leverage in that particular negotiation. Whatever money the Lions were willing to pay him in an extension this year will be there next summer, and, if he can lead the team into the playoffs, there will be a lot more.

It would have been bad business for him to accept an extension this year.

As for Suh being willing to restructure, please understand that is a different animal. He didn't give back any money. He just allowed the team to pay him most of his yearly salary up front, calling it a signing bonus.

So don't think Suh was being completely altruistic and Stafford selfish. That's not the case.

Cap numbers ominous

What this last week has shown me — besides the need for a live-in nurse — is that the Lions are all in for 2013.

Lewand is playing a dangerous shell game with the cap. He's buying in with inexpensive first-year payments that will balloon at the back end of the deal.

Think about this: In 2014, barring any other contract re-workings, Suh's cap will be $21.4 million. Stafford's will be $19.3 million. That all but precludes a franchise tag for either of them, since the tag would be worth 120 percent of that last figure.

On top of that, Bush's cap hit the last two years of his deal is a combined $9.5 million, when he will be 30 and 31. Houston will have a cap hit of $6 million in each of the last two years of his deal, and Quin's hit is $5.05 million in each of the last two years on his.

These debts eventually come due, so Lewand will have a lot of work to do.

But he has done exactly what he had to do for now. If the team struggles again in 2013, coach Jim Schwartz and possibly Mayhew won't be around to worry about 2014 and beyond.

Win now, pay later — I am all for that.

Backus gave his all

Lastly, how classic was it for Jeff Backus to announce his retirement with a written statement. Perfect. He didn't hate the media. If you wanted to stand around his locker and shoot the breeze about hunting, fishing or the Wolverines, he was more than willing.

But turn on the cameras and recorders — uh-uh, he was gone.

The decision to retire had to be agonizing for him. I know he was coming to the facility regularly before free agency started. It seemed to many within the organization he was leaning toward coming back.

But, in the end, he decided he didn't have another year in him. Good for him. He certainly gave this organization all he had for 12 seasons. He never got the respect he deserved from the fans around here, but he got it from his peers and teammates.

They don't make them like this guy anymore. He played a tough position consistently well and missed one game in 12 years. And had that game been played a little later in the day (last Thanksgiving), he would have found a way to be on the field that day, too.

His pain threshold was superhuman.

Happy trails to you, Jeff, enjoy the next adventure.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

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