Teammates want Suh to return to Lions

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Lions safety James Ihedigbo doesn't want to think about what the defense would look like without its best player.

But he may have to.

After the Lions reached Monday's deadline and decided not to use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the possibility increased that Suh won't return to the Lions next season. The Lions and Suh have until next Tuesday to come up with a long-term agreement or he'll be free to sign with another team.

Ihedigbo knows how critical Suh was to the Lions defense, which ranked first against the run and second overall last season.

"I want him back. He's such a key part to everything we do that we hope that we can get him back," Ihedigbo said Monday. "It's the nature of the business, so it's really out of my hands and what I think really doesn't matter."

The Lions had been saying throughout the negotiation process that they were confident that they could get a long-term deal done with Suh, but with only eight days left before he hits free agency, the clock is ticking.

Defensive lineman Darryl Tapp, who re-signed with the Lions on Monday, sees the appeal for Suh to gauge his value on the open market.

"From a business standpoint, he gets to see where he really wants to be. He gets to be recruited by other teams, which he's never really done before," Tapp said. "It's an exciting time for him."

Suh is regarded as a defensive leader, both on the field and in the locker room. Although he's had his run-ins with opposing players, his teammates know his value. Realizing that he could have played his last game in a Lions uniform is a sobering thought, though.

"You don't know what's going to take place, if there are going to be any cap casualties," Ihedigbo said. "Every year, all that you know is that the team you're playing with is going to look different next year; you never know what's going to happen.

"You just trust the process and do whatever is asked of you and go out there and rock with the guys who are going to be on the team — and I really hope Suh is part of that."

Some critics would say that Suh isn't worth the $26.9 million cap hit the Lions would have had to absorb by using the franchise tag. The alternative would be using his salary to get other pieces to fit in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's system.

But potentially losing tackle Nick Fairley could create two openings in the starting defensive line.

For Ihedigbo, Suh's value is more than just one spot in the defensive scheme.

"Suh's been doing this for years in the league, even when the Lions weren't that highly ranked. He's always been a dominant player," Ihedigbo said. "You can't take away his talent and what he's done and say it's the scheme — that's unfair to him.

"He's been playing at a high level in (Jim) Schwartz's defense and (Austin)'s defense. It's his skill level that makes the difference. He does what's asked of him in the defense that he's in."

Ihedigbo, who played for the Ravens before coming to the Lions, compares Suh's impact to that of Haloti Ngata, a menacing nose tackle. Suh regularly commands double-teams and although the statistics don't always show it, Ihedigbo says, Suh is a difference-maker.

Regardless of the outcome, Tapp marvels at how Suh has made it through, but doesn't want him to be too successful in his negotiations.

"I'm proud of how he handled the whole situation. I'm excited, like he probably is, to see where the next move is — but, hopefully, it's not too far away."