Ndamukong Suh has 27.5 sacks in four seasons with the Lions. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
The Houston Texans signing J.J. Watt to a reported six-year, $100 million extension is potentially bad news for the Lions in their pursuit to keep All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next year.
Watt, a 289-pound defensive end in Houston’s 3-4 scheme, will make $51.8 million guaranteed and receive an average of $16.6 million annually under the contract, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
Previously, Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams and New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis held the record for defensive players with contracts that paid an average of $16 million per season.
With Watt’s new contract, Suh has even more leverage in negotiations with the Lions, the same negotiations that stalled this offseason and forced the Lions to table them until after the 2014 season.
Watt has been among the most productive players in the NFL his first three seasons with 36.5 sacks, 47 tackles for loss and 27 passes defensed. Suh hasn’t matched that production in his four seasons with 27.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 12 passes defensed. But the Lions’ 4-3 scheme is supposed to be most beneficial to defensive ends with regard to sacks.
Watt’s extension helps illustrate just how much leverage Suh has. His rookie contract paid him $11.23 million, all guaranteed, over the first four years. Suh’s rookie deal was worth up to $68 million over five seasons with $40 million guaranteed.
To say Suh isn’t worth nearly $100 million and close to $16 million per season would deny him the raise he’s earned after being a first-team All-Pro in two of his first four seasons.
Plus, Suh and Watt are both represented by agents with the Creative Artists Agency who showed their grasp of the market with Watt’s extension. CAA also represents Tampa Bay’s All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was picked one spot after Suh in the 2010 draft, and his extension will also help set Suh’s market whenever the two sides reach an agreement.
Suh is making $12.55 million this season, and it would cost the Lions nearly $27 million to keep him with the franchise tender in 2015. Paying a defensive tackle $16 million a year might seem hefty, but with Suh’s leverage, Watt’s contract and the rising NFL salary cap, it could be the cost for the Lions to keep their top defensive player.