Lewand has no regrets about Lions losing Suh

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Phoenix — Lions general manager Martin Mayhew addressed on Monday the circumstances that led to Ndamukong Suh leaving the team in free agency, and on Tuesday, president Tom Lewand offered his explanation.

While Mayhew's primary job is to run the personnel department, Lewand handles many of the large contracts and manages the salary cap. Like Mayhew, Lewand said he has no regrets about the process that resulted in Suh signing with the Dolphins and is looking forward to having more cap freedom in the future.

"We put ourselves in a position where we made an offer to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league — the highest-paid defensive player in the league — and I think that was a substantial commitment by the organization," Lewand told local reporters at the NFL annual meetings. "It was something that we were prepared to do under the salary cap. I think it was reflective of everything that we said publicly and privately, and the kind of commitment that we were willing to make to him is something that we don't shy away from.

"I think he quite simply made a decision to go somewhere else based on his evaluation of the two circumstances and that was his choice."

The Lions offered Suh a six-year contract worth $102 million with $58 million guaranteed, but he signed with the Dolphins for six years and $114 million with $60 million guaranteed. Citing that offer, Lewand said the team was willing to continue having three players — Suh, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford — dominate their salary cap, but "there's always limitations."

The Lions had an opportunity to ensure that Suh would remain in Detroit in 2015, but the team declined to use the franchise tag at a rate of $26.9 million, an exorbitant figure created when the Lions restructured Suh's deal in 2012 and 2013.

Restructuring Suh's contract allowed the Lions to sign several free agents, including safety Glover Quin. Without those alterations to Suh's deal, his franchise tag would've been more than $19 million, but Lewand was non-committal when asked if the team would've tagged him at that price.

"When we made the decisions to do those things, we went into it completely understanding what the implications were when we do things," he said. "We look at the planning process, we look at what the benefits and the drawbacks of the franchise tag would be.

"I don't know that those dynamics are different whether you are dealing with $19 million or $26 million in terms of some of those dynamics. Every decision that we make, we make with the information that we have available at the time."

Lewand grew increasingly frustrated with the Suh questions and 10 minutes into the 40-minute interview he tried to cut them off, saying it doesn't benefit the team to look backward or disclose details of the negotiations.

"For two reasons, I respectfully am not going to get into the details of the negotiations," he said. "One is because I don't think it's fair to the process. There are a lot of things that occurred during the process. A lot of information that came my way or our way and a lot of information that didn't come our way that is very germane to what happened in the transaction.

"And it's not fair to the process, it's not fair to Ndamukong or his representatives to begin to talk about specifics. It goes in contrast to what we've always said, which is we don't talk about the particulars of the negotiations. And then, finally and most importantly, it doesn't do us any good to look backwards. We're looking forward. We're excited about where we are."

Looking ahead, Lewand said he's excited that the team could replace Suh with Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle the Lions acquired in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens.

Even though the Lions haven't made splash moves in free agency, Lewand thinks they will have more opportunities to improve the roster between now and September. The Lions signed a few key contributors after the initial free agency wave in recent years, including cornerback Rashean Mathis in August 2013 and defensive end George Johnson in April 2014.