May 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Lions can't give up on Suh, no matter the headache

Jim Caldwell on Ndamukong Suh
Jim Caldwell on Ndamukong Suh: Lions' coach expects his defensive tackle to attend this week's OTA in Allen Park.

Allen Park ó Itís about to begin, ready or not, fair or not. You can gripe if you wish, but the prudent move is to withhold judgment on Ndamukong Suh until, you know, something actually happens.

Weíre entering a clamorous period with the Lions called S.O.S. ó Summer of Suh. Itís not quite the Same Olí Stuff, as Suh enters the final season of his contract sending mixed signals interpreted (or misinterpreted) daily. Everything is high drama with Suh, but a little suggestion for Lions fans: Donít vilify him before itís necessary, if it ever is.

New coach Jim Caldwell is heeding that, which is smart, because he desperately needs a dominant Suh. He said he ďanticipatesĒ Suh will be at the OTAs (organized team activities) that start Tuesday and spoke glowingly of his leadership. It was hard to tell if Caldwell was describing what Suh is, or what he hopes he is. But for all the murmurs of Suh spurning the Lions, a preemptive spurn by the team makes no sense.

ďObviously, heís a great player and heís also got great leadership ability,Ē Caldwell said Sunday at the end of rookie orientation camp. ďSo, to have him back in here working amongst the group is going to be a great time for everybody.Ē

It isnít labeled a voluntary workout and itís not a mandatory workout, so itís something in between, which is where the Lions sit with Suh right now. Martin Mayhew said he has no intention of trading Suh and is pursuing a contract extension, but he wonít discuss timetables, which sounds vaguely ominous. Suh also changed agents, stalling negotiations with team president Tom Lewand. If he doesnít sign a new deal, the Lions take a $22.4-million salary cap hit this season, and then he could bolt as a free-agent.

But be careful trying to decipher motivations in the sports world. Itís not a job for amateurs. For instance, thereís another S.O.S. in our city ó Summer of Scherzer. Tigers star Max Scherzer turned down $144 million and plans to test free-agency. The way heís dominating, it looks like a wise gamble, and I doubt many begrudge it. He bet on himself, and if the Tigers benefit for one more season, fair enough.

Would fans feel the same way if Suh turns down a hefty contract? Probably not, a sentiment perhaps affected by Suhís surly tendencies and on-field nastiness. The NFLís salary cap also makes contracts problematic.

Testing the market

But right now, who do you think is more likely to remain in Detroit ó Scherzer or Suh? I contend itís Suh.

Scherzer has said nothing but good things about the team and the city, but he knows he could top $200 million on the open market. Suh says little about his plans and signed a rookie contract that gets him to free-agency quicker, but he could strike the best deal here.

My point with the dueling S.O.Sís is not to denigrate either. Itís to point out that words donít define intentions, and value is partly a function of timing and a teamís needs.

Whatever you think of Suhís detached demeanor, it would be a huge blow for the Lions to lose him. When itís just about football, Suh is very popular in this town. Heís one of the top defensive tackles in the game, and at 27 is entering his prime. He hasnít matched the 10-sack total of his rookie season but thatís not how heís judged. Heís strong, he plays every game and heís disruptive. Some of that disruption spills off the field, and some is overblown.

There are worse issues than having one of your star players working with his own trainers in Portland, a vigorous regimen he long has followed. If Suh shows up this week flabby, Iíd be flabbergasted. The guy is a physical freak, and if he doesnít fit in the same box as most football players, thatís OK.

Proper perspective

The vexing part is, Suh invites the scrutiny even as he evades it. He does national commercials and other endeavors, but skips voluntary workouts and a chance to get better acquainted with a new coaching staff. A new system doesnít affect a defensive tackle as much as a quarterback, but if the leadership angle is real, itíd be nice to see it.

Caldwell leapt to Suhís defense Sunday, in what appears to be a not-so-subtle courtship. He said they talk and text all the time, and isnít concerned Suh has been absent from the team facility.

ďIíve been a few places in my time, and I can cite you so many different examples of guys that maybe werenít here during the time period, that did a tremendous job in terms of their leadership,Ē Caldwell said.

ďI donít expect him to be any different. I think heíll fit into that category, as opposed to any other category youíd like to slide him into.Ē

Ah, a friendly dig from a coach not interested in the mediaís preconceived notions. Caldwellís first inclination is to back one of his best players, as he should. Would it be better if Suh attended every offseason workout and bonded with his team? Sure. But on the list of misdeeds, applying the full definition of ďvoluntaryĒ doesnít qualify.

The fact is, Suh ultimately will decide which category fits him best. If he truly wants to lead, and wants to do it here, heíll have to show up and prove it soon enough.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh likes to keep people guessing as to his future with the team. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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