Believe it or not, the guessing game of where Ndamukong Suh will play in 2015 should end within the next two weeks.
The Lions must decide by 4 p.m. Monday whether they want to use the franchise tag for the abundant price of $26.9 million. If they don't use the tag, other teams can begin negotiating with Suh next Saturday, March 7, and by the following Tuesday, March 10, at 4 p.m., Suh will be a free agent and likely sign a new deal — whether in Detroit or elsewhere — shortly thereafter.
As the finality of these negotiations draw nigh, though, it's clear some people still have unanswered questions about the process and what the Lions would receive if he spurns the team that drafted him second overall in 2010. Despite the constant coverage of Suh's every step the past year, there are still several misconceptions surrounding his negotiations with the Lions and the salary cap implications.
Here are explanations for some of the many fallacies:
Misconception: The Lions receive compensation in 2015 if Suh leaves as a free agent.
Explanation: If Suh signs with another team as a free agent, the Lions will receive a compensatory draft pick, but not until 2016. And the highest compensatory pick available is at the end of the third round, no matter how well Suh plays for another team. The only thing the Lions would receive in 2015 is the cap space earmarked for Suh, which would be used to sign other free agents.
Misconception: The non-exclusive franchise tag is a no-brainer because the Lions could get two first-round picks.
Explanation: General manager Martin Mayhew said Friday he hadn't yet decided whether the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag was the best option for the Lions. Both options have benefits, and because Suh's tag price is 120 percent of his 2014 salary cap hit, the price is the same for both. The exclusive tag would ensure Suh will be with the Lions in 2015 because he can't negotiate with other teams, and keeping Suh in 2015 — and hopefully beyond — was the goal of the entire offseason.
The non-exclusive tag would give Suh a chance to negotiate with other teams, and if he signs with a new team, they will receive two first-round picks. But those picks wouldn't be until 2016 and 2017, so, again, they receive nothing in 2015. Of course, if the Lions place either tag on Suh, there's no reason to think he'd spend another second negotiating because $26.9 million for one season is an impressive haul even if he'd prefer long-term security.
Misconception: Suh's $9.7 million dead cap hit plays a role in negotiations.
Explanation: By giving Suh a voidable sixth year on his contract and restructuring his contract to create cap space in 2012 and 2013, the Lions created $9.7 million in dead cap space in 2015, money that will count against their salary cap whether he's in Detroit or with another team. Because the Lions must pay this even if Suh plays elsewhere, there's no reason to think it plays any role in negotiations.
Misconception: Suh wouldn't want to play under the franchise tag.
Explanation: Typically, players don't want to receive the franchise tag because it either pays less than they think they deserve or provides little security long term. The latter is true, of course, but $26.9 million is more than double what most candidates would make under a tag. He'd show up and play as he has the previous five years.
Misconception: Suh ruined the Lions salary cap.
Explanation: That blame falls wholly on the Lions. According to a Sporting News story in August, Suh's salary cap hit in 2014 would've been about $16 million had they never restructured his deal to create room to sign free agents. If that were the case, the Lions would've had more than $6 million more in cap space last year when Suh had a $22.4 million hit, and his franchise number would've been closer to $19 million. Plus, the Lions would be on the hook for significantly less in dead money in 2015.
Misconception: Suh isn't as good as J.J. Watt, so he shouldn't be paid more.
Explanation: The Texans' superstar defensive end signed a new deal worth $100 million over six years with $51.9 million guaranteed in September 2014, and he wasn't even going to be a free agent until after the 2015 season. Plus, Watt's rookie contract was worth just $11.2 million over the first four years because he was drafted after the new collective bargaining agreement. Suh's rookie deal was for $64.5 million over five years. The amount of leverage Suh has is amazing because he's earned a substantial raise, so making more than Watt's guaranteed money or his $16.7 annual value should come as no surprise.
Misconception: Suh cried after losing to the Cowboys because it was his last game with the Lions.
Explanation: Grown men cry. Don't read into it. Many of Suh's teammates cried after that game because it was a devastating loss in a game they expected to win.