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Mayhew: Lions' offseason plans revolve around Suh

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Lions general manager Martin Mayhew sang the same old tune Wednesday when he discussed Ndamukong Suh's future with the team.

"I have an update on that," he said at the NFL combine. "It's not done."

The Lions want the All-Pro defensive tackle in Detroit long term and are optimistic they can reach an agreement with Suh, but Mayhew and others within the organization have expressed that same confidence for the past year.

Ultimately, during his non-update update, Mayhew did provide some honest insight into the importance of the team's negotiations with Suh, saying the Lions won't know exactly how to proceed with other players this offseason until they know what's happening with their defensive superstar.

"Priority No. 1 is getting a deal done with him, so that's what we're focused on is trying to get a deal done with him," Mayhew said at Lucas Oil Stadium. "We'll cross the bridges of other players whenever we get to those."

In some ways, the Lions had a similar problem last year, but it's now magnified. In 2014, Suh had a salary cap hit of $22.4 million, and signing him to a long-term deal would've given them more room to sign free agents.

At the combine last year, Mayhew expressed confidence the Lions could re-sign Suh before the start of free agency, and even though a year has passed, that confidence hasn't wavered, in part because of his conversations with Suh.

However, Suh's unknown future has halted much of the Lions' offseason plans because they don't know if he'll be in Detroit in 2015 or at what cost.

"Really it's a matter of setting some priorities and then understanding some trade-offs that have to happen," Mayhew said. "When certain things happen, certain other things don't happen and vice versa."

The No. 2 overall pick in 2010 and a three-time All-Pro, Suh is set to become a free agent on March 10 unless the Lions sign him to a deal first or use the franchise tag before March 2. The tag would cost $26.9 million, and Mayhew said the Lions haven't decided whether they will use it.

"We're prepared for what it takes financially to get him signed," Mayhew said.

With the salary cap reportedly set to increase to about $142 million, the Lions only have about $15 million in cap room, so they would have to free space by cutting players and/or restructuring contracts to pay Suh's tag. Candidates to be cut are linebacker Stephen Tulloch and running back Reggie Bush and possible restructure options are wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the Lions would like to know Suh's plans before making any of those moves.

"From our standpoint, it's important to get something done before free agency if we can," Mayhew said. "We'll keep working toward getting something done with the understanding that once we do that and make that financial commitment, things kind of fall into place from there."

The Lions hope to meet with Suh's agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis this week to continue negotiations. On Feb. 1, team president Tom Lewand said on WDIV-TV he was "very, very confident" the Lions could have an agreement with Suh within a few weeks, and the third week since that statement began Monday.

"We're still working on it, still very optimistic that we'll be able to get it done," Mayhew said. "I think we have a lot of the essential elements that we need to get it done in that he's got a scheme that he likes playing in, he's got a passion for the game as you guys know. We have a defense that plays with that kind of passion. He's got a head coach he likes playing for. He's got teammates he likes playing with.

"So we have a lot of things that he's looking for here in Detroit and obviously we have a desire to get him signed."

And while there's mostly public optimism from the Lions, Mayhew did allow some doubt to creep in for the first time with regards to the Suh negotiations. In discussing the possibility of re-signing fellow free-agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley and other players, Mayhew again noted the importance of what happens with Suh.

"A lot of it revolves around Suh," he said. "I can see a scenario however where we have Suh and Nick back, but I can also see a scenario where we have neither one of them."