March 15, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Chris McCosky

Lions do substantive work without working a deal with Suh; what next?

Ndamukong Suh has 136 tackles in four seasons with the Lions. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park ó I understand what heís saying, but Lions president Tom Lewand is being a tad disingenuous when he says Ndamukong Suhís contract and its $22.4 million cap hit had no impact on the teamís plans for free agency.

You donít have to be an accountant to know they would have had a lot more money to spend in free agency had they been able to work out an extension with Suh and thus significantly lower his cap number.

Had they more cap space, maybe they could have made a run at safety Jairus Byrd or a cornerback like Alterraun Verner or some other top tier free agent.

But hereís Lewandís point ó they didnít need to. The Lions, despite the late-season fade in 2013, didnít come into free agency from a point of weakness, roster-wise. They werenít in a position, like theyíve been so often the last couple of decades, of having to overhaul the roster and make a big splash in free agency.

Their plan for free agency was to retain their own players and augment the roster. And for that, they had adequate cap flexibility without having to extend Suh.

You fantasy football owners might not like the conservative plan, but itís a smart plan. Bill Polian, the ESPN analyst who built Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and Indianapolis, says according to a study he did with Bill Parcells, 50 percent of all free agent signings since 1993 have failed.

Trying to build through free agency is a risk and the Lions, for once, didnít need to take that risk.

With about $11.5 million initial cap space, they retained running back Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. They signed a young and versatile No. 2 receiver in Golden Tate. They bolstered their depth on the defensive line by signing veterans Darryl Tapp and Vaughn Martin.

And, they have a deal in place with veteran safety James Ihedigbo, which he is expected to sign this week, and could also potentially get a deal done with a veteran backup quarterback Ė presumably Shaun Hill.

Itís not going to get headlines on ESPN or ignite a run on season tickets, but itís a pretty substantive haul.

Understand, too, the roster building is far from done. The draft is next and they are sitting pretty with the 10th overall pick. Free agency isnít over, either. They can still rework other contracts, release players or, eventually, get a deal done with Suh and continue to shop for free agents.

So what exactly is going on with Suh? I wish I knew. He has settled his agent situation. Jimmy Sexton is handling the negotiations. But Joique Bell told reporters last week that Suh had told him there were no ongoing talks with the Lions.

Who knows why? It could be that the two sides agreed to talk after the first wave of free agency. It could be the Lions needed some time to deal with the death of owner William Clay Ford.

Or, it could be that Suh wants some time to see how things are going to work with new head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin before he commits to a long-term extension.

That, by the way, is something Suh is wise and right to do. Nobody should be criticizing Suh for waiting. He earned the contract he has and heís restructured it in the past to help create cap space. This is his time. He would be a fool not to try to maximize it, and we all know Suh is no fool when it comes to business.

My guess is he will audit the OTAs, get a feel for Caldwell and the new regime and then determine if he wants to stay another four to six years. Best case scenario Ė he likes it and works the extension before the draft. Worst case Ė he plays out this final year and puts himself on the open market for 2015.

Lewand disagreed with the notion that Suh had all the leverage in this situation, but he truly does. The only way he doesnít is if the Lions are OK with putting the franchise tag on him for 2015 and letting him suck up even more cap space or they are willing to let him walk.

Doubtful on both.

Chris McCosky on Twitter: @cmccosky

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