Ndamukong Suh reportedly will be the next superstar athlete to take his talents to South Beach, and his contract will be worth more annually than LeBron James' deal with the Miami Heat.
According to an ESPN report Sunday, Suh plans to sign a six-year, $114 million deal with the Dolphins when he becomes a free agent on Tuesday. The contract will include $60 million guaranteed and make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history by a significant margin.
The Lions have yet to confirm they are losing their best defensive player in a generation. The team's final offer to keep Suh was for $17 million per year — $102 million over six years — and $58 million guaranteed, according to a league source.
The source requested anonymity due to the confidentiality of the negotiations.
For more than the past year, Lions president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew have expressed nothing but optimism about re-signing Suh.
"He wants to have success in the NFL obviously, but he wants to do that with us," Lewand said on WDIV-TV on Feb. 1. "I think there's a very, very good chance that we can get something done in the next few weeks."
Instead, Suh used his mountain of leverage to sign elsewhere and will immediately make the Dolphins one of the most imposing defenses in the league. Suh will also cost $9.7 million on the Lions' salary cap as a result of dead cap charges remaining on his rookie deal.
By restructuring Suh's contract in 2012 and 2013, the Lions helped Suh's salary cap number reach $22.4 million in 2014. By rejecting the Lions' extension offers in the 2014 offseason, Suh ensured his franchise tag would cost $26.9 million, which the Lions rejected officially on Monday.
The Lions also rejected a $5.5 million option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley that would've kept him in Detroit in 2015 and drafted tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall last year instead of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who would've provided them more security at the position.
Now, a day after the NFL's legal negotiating period opened, Suh reportedly has a deal in principle that will make him the league's highest-paid defensive player by a wide margin.
Suh will make $19 million on average per the parameters of the deal. Only quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Drew Brees make more per year. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the only player who received more money guaranteed at $61 million.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is currently the highest-paid defensive player after signing a six-year, $100 million deal with $52 million guaranteed in September.
For the sake of comparison, the deal James signed before being traded to the Heat was for six years and $110 million.
Suh was set to have plenty of suitors on the open market. In addition to the Dolphins, the Raiders, Chargers and Colts were all reportedly interested in pursuing Suh.
The second overall pick in 2010, Suh was a first-team All-Pro in three of his first five seasons with the Lions. He had his best year in 2014 with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss as the centerpiece of a Lions defense that ranked second overall and first against the run.
Signing with Miami also ensures Suh will see more of the money he stands to make in the deal. Florida has no state income tax, and Michigan has a rate of 4.25 percent. Joel Corry, a former agent who now works for CBS Sports, said last week that taxes can often play a role in a decision about a contract of this size.
In addition to the leverage Suh had as a result of restructures, his excessive rookie contract also gave him more power than other free agents. Suh's rookie deal was worth $64.5 million over five years with $23.3 million guaranteed, and after five stellar seasons, he was due a significant raise.
The Lions were still in the running to retain Suh as of Saturday, but the Dolphins offer was too good to reject.
Now, the Lions must look ahead to free agency Tuesday to try to fill the massive hole in the middle of their defense. Fairley and C.J. Mosley are both set to become free agents, but the Lions could re-sign them to ensure they have defensive tackles familiar with coordinator Teryl Austin's scheme.
Other free-agent defensive tackles include Baltimore's Haloti Ngata, Arizona's Dan Williams, St. Louis' Kendall Langford and Chicago's Stephen Paea.
Besides defensive tackle, the Lions have needs at cornerback and on the offensive line they could fill in free agency. They have about $17 million in cap space.