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Lions owner Martha Ford active behind scenes

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Phoenix — Lions owner and chairwoman Martha Firestone Ford has yet to speak publicly since taking over as principle owner last March following the death of her husband, William Clay Ford Sr., but team president Tom Lewand provided some insight Tuesday into her level of activity the past year.

Ford has been in Phoenix this week for the NFL's annual meetings, and before she left Tuesday, Lewand said she was involved in all aspects of the meetings.

"She's been great," Lewand said. "She's in there from the time they start until the time they end over the course of the day.

"She's engaged on every topic. We met before we came down here to go through some of the agenda items and talked through them in greater detail. She's got strong opinions on certain things. She's got strong opinions and she's extremely sharp, very perceptive and she has a lot of interaction with her peers."

Lewand spoke to reporters for about 40 minutes on a wide range of topics. The primary subject was how the Lions lost All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins during free agency. After about 10 minutes, Lewand tried to stop all questions about Suh, saying it doesn't benefit the team to look back.

He also declined to detail the negotiation process. The Lions offered Suh a six-year, $102 million contract with $58 million guaranteed, but he took a six-year deal worth $114 million and $60 million guaranteed from the Dolphins.

"I don't think it's (disclosing details) fair to the process," he said.

Echoing general manager Martin Mayhew's comments from Monday, Lewand said not having Suh's contract can be beneficial for the team's salary cap considerations in the future. He also said the team has not yet started negotiating an extension with linebacker DeAndre Levy, who's entering the final year of his deal.

Ford declined interview attempts this week. Asked why she hasn't spoken publicly since becoming the team's top leader, Lewand said, "Stay tuned."

Lewand gave the same response when asked if the Lions would have alternate uniforms this season, but said the logo would not change.

Even though her reign as owner didn't begin until last March, Ford's involvement started sooner. Before Lewand and Mayhew considered firing Jim Schwartz in December 2014, Ford shared her goals with the management team.

"She was very clear in that meeting about what her expectations were for this franchise," Lewand said. "There was no ambiguity about the excellence starting with winning the NFC North and then moving onto considerable playoff success, including a Super Bowl.

"It is very clear that the main measuring stick is success on the field more so than it is any business metric."

Lewand continued to say that Ford hopes to win "the right way," with integrity and resilience, and there is no gray area from the ownership family that it wants the franchise "to be excellent on and off the field."

In Ford's first year in place of her husband, the Lions finished 11-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Lewand said she agreed with management and coach Jim Caldwell that it was a good, but not great, season.

"She's very involved as is the rest of the family," Lewand said. "There are no bigger proponents and fans of the Lions. This is a family that grew up around the Lions. ... This is a passion for them in addition to being just a football team or a business.

"We have regular communication and Mrs. Ford has been very clear about the desire to be supportive but also to set expectations of accountability on what that performance should look like on and off the field."