July 29, 2014 at 1:18 am

John Niyo

Lions, Suh far apart, but not parting ways - yet

Detroit News sports writers talk Lions
Detroit News sports writers talk Lions: Josh Katzenstein and Rod Beard on the first day of training camp and the big Ndamukong Suh news.

Allen Park — Finally, they’ve reached an agreement.

Moments before the start of the training camp, the Lions front office announced the team had tabled negotiations on a contract extension with All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

After practice, Suh shared a few laughs with coach Jim Caldwell, waved to some fans chanting his name at a nearby autograph tent — one of them did yell, “Sign that contract!” — and then respectfully and repeatedly declined to address the matter at hand.

“I’m not talking about my contract,” he said, smiling.

So there you have it: They’re not talking about his contract.

Not now. Not this fall. Not until January or February, depending on the Lions, um, playoff plans.

And if you were expecting something more, well, so were the Lions, who after failing to come to a “meeting of the minds” with Suh and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, after weeks of roundabout talks decided it was time to circle the wagons.

They cited a desire “to keep the focus on the field where it belongs,” as team president Tom Lewand put it, and tried their best — they always do — to cast this latest setback in a positive light.

“It’s been my experience, when you can get a deal done in five minutes, the player’s not very good,” general manager Martin Mayhew explained. “It takes a little bit of time to get good players signed.”

Probably so, but it was five months ago that Mayhew suggested a new extension could be done by the start of free agency in March. Then Suh took his time finding a new agent, and the timetable was pushed back.

“After the draft, I thought probably (it would be done) by now,” Mayhew said Monday.

And now?

“And now I think next year,” the general manager said.

Suh's future

Now, I know what you’re thinking. He’s gone, right? He’ll play out his contract this year and bolt as a free agent after the season. And judging by the growing fan discontent with Suh, the reaction will be something along the lines of, “Good riddance.”

Suh can say what he wants — “I’ve said it many times I wanted to be here, so no more questions to answer about that,” he sighed Monday — but fairly or not, the words always seem to ring a bit hollow to many in this town.

Then again, so does what we hear from the Lions decision-makers: Lewand, Mayhew, even Caldwell. To a man, they all say they’re “optimistic” — or even “very optimistic” in Lewand’s case — they’ll be able to strike a deal with Suh after the season.

“We have the formula for getting a guy signed,” Mayhew said. “We have a player who wants to be here. We have a team that wants to keep the player. Those are the two most important things.”

Other than the signed contract, that is.

Time to prove it

But I’ll give them credit, at least, for not simply handing Suh a blank check here. They’ve done enough of that already, with the deals for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and the ensuing can-kicking with various contract restructures the past two offseasons. And if they’re truly serious about this “accountability” idea in Allen Park, better accounting practices probably need to be a part of that as well.

While they’re certainly taking a risk here, it’s a calculated one. The Lions insist they’ve still got some leverage in any future negotiations. They even left open the possibility of slapping the franchise tag on Suh next March, though a total cap hit of more than $36 million (including dead money) in 2015 seems beyond absurd.

Still, Suh already is the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, and there’s no guarantee another team will offer significantly more guaranteed money than the Lions on the open market this winter. So in a way, by tabling talks now, you could argue they’re calling Suh’s bluff.

If Suh is worth it, prove it during a contract year. (Declining Nick Fairley’s option year probably was a mistake, by the way.) If he wants to be here, prove that, too.

Money talks, yes. But actions sometimes speak louder than words.

Suh, for his part, reiterated Monday he has a “great relationship” with Mayhew.

He thinks his new coach is “great” —“I mean, I love every bit of him,” he said — and “the sky’s the limit” for his team, with its young nucleus of talent and some high-character, high-energy veterans playing key roles, on and off the field.

Meanwhile, when Mayhew was asked why he was so confident a deal will get done to keep Suh in Detroit, he replied, “I don’t know. I guess because he’s telling the truth and we’re telling the truth. … I just feel confident that he’s going to be playing for us next year.”

But all anyone could say with any certainty Monday was that he’s going to be playing for the Lions this year.

“And I’m not gonna talk about my contract,” Suh said. “I’m gonna talk about football.”

For better or worse, the feeling’s mutual.


Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) and end Devin Taylor leave the field after practice Monday. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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