Allen Park — The Lions have tabled contract negotiations with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014 season, but remain confident they can keep the two-time All-Pro in Detroit.
“We have the formula for getting a guy signed,” general manager Martin Mayhew said Monday. “We have a player that wants to be here; we have a team that wants to keep the player. Those are the two most important things.”
Mayhew said the Lions decided to end negotiations over the past couple weeks, and Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton of Creative Artists Agency, was on board with the decision. With training camp beginning Monday, the Lions wanted the focus to remain on the field, for both Suh and his teammates, who have regularly had to address Suh’s future this offseason.
“I think this is the right thing for us to do,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “It’s the right thing for the team, I think it’s the right thing for everybody involved and it allows us to keep the focus where it belongs. I remain tremendously confident and (coach Jim Caldwell) said it yesterday in his press conference.
“We have a high degree of confidence that we can work out something that will be mutually satisfactory at the right time, and the goal hasn’t changed in the least.”
Suh, the second overall pick in 2010, can void the final year of his rookie contract after this season and become an unrestricted free agent, and if he hits the open market, he’ll likely have many suitors willing to pay top dollar.
After practice Monday, Suh had no desire to talk about his contract situation and said he had “no reaction” to the negotiations ending.
“It wasn’t my decision,” Suh said. “I’m not going to talk about my contract. We’re going to continue to talk about football.”
Suh also said his relationship with the Lions' front office is "great," and "nothing's going to change" as a result of this stalemate.
The Lions have been in discussions with Sexton since Suh hired him in March, but Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand would not comment on why negotiations failed. Mayhew also said the Lions have no interest in trading Suh.
At the NFL combine in February, Mayhew expressed confidence about reaching an extension with Suh before free agency began in March. During the NFL draft in May, Mayhew said he thought the two sides could come to an agreement before the start of training camp. Had the two sides reached a deal, the Lions could have lessened Suh’s $22.4 million salary cap figure this season and had more money to spend in free agency.
Now, Mayhew said he’s not sure if the team will be able to sign Suh before he hits free agency next March.
“I can’t say that we will. I just feel confident that he’s going to be playing for us next year,” Mayhew said.
Suh said he likes playing for the Lions because of the surrounding talent, listing himself Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and young defensive linemen Ziggy Ansah and Caraun Reid. He also thinks “the sky’s the limit” this season as long as the Lions execute, and he won’t let his uncertain future be a distraction.
“I’m just out here playing football and having fun,” Suh said.
Though nobody would discuss why negotiations failed, it likely had to do with money. With Suh’s rookie contract totaling $63.5 million over five years, it’s tough to envision him taking an offer that doesn’t pay him significantly more based on his stellar play thus far in the NFL.
“I’m not going to get into specifics on the details, but obviously we don’t have a meeting of the minds or we’d have a contract extension,” Lewand said. “But it doesn’t mean that we won’t have one at the right point in time.”
Bush said Lions players understand Suh’s situation.
“As players, we all want to see each other get the most money possible,” Bush said. “I don’t think anybody has any ill-will intent when it comes to contract negotiations, and we just understand it.”
Suh’s fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, said Suh told the defensive line about the contract situation before practice began Monday, and “if it’s not a distraction to him, it’s not a distraction to us.”
If the Lions can’t agree to terms with Suh, they could consider using the franchise tender to keep him in Detroit, but that would cost nearly $26.9 million in 2015.
“I think it’s possible,” Mayhew said. “I wouldn’t close the door on that. The cap will go up next year, as we know. Every year we have people concerned about our ability to function under the salary cap and thus far we’ve been able to go out in free agency every year and add to our team, make our team better.”
Part of the Lions’ confidence comes from their ability to re-sign free agents they’ve wanted to keep, such as tight end Brandon Pettigrew this season and linebacker Stephen Tulloch in 2012.
Depending on his contract value, keeping Suh would put a strain on the Lions’ salary cap for years to come with wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford also signed to lucrative long-term deals, but Lewand said those two contracts had nothing to do with Suh’s negotiations.
“Our cap situation is not the holdup,” Lewand said.
And, of course, if Suh has another All-Pro season, his asking price will only increase when negotiations open again.
"That’d be a good problem to have," Mayhew said. "I’ll take that concern. I hope Nick Fairley has one, too, and Matthew Stafford has one, and we’ll deal with that."