Ihedigbo at OTAs to help Lions make 'next step'

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions safety James Ihedigbo didn't want to discuss his contract situation Wednesday, but explained why he wanted to return for organized team activities without the raise he's still seeking from the team.

"My focus is on this season coming up and putting the work in on that field to make sure I can help our team taking that next step and individually taking that next step," he said after the second of the Lions' 10 OTAs.

Ihedigbo referred to his teammates as "my guys" and "brothers." Although 2014 was his first season with the Lions, the 31-year-old has already established himself as one of the team's defensive leaders, which is why his return provided a bit of a lift for the players.

"I think it's always good when we can get all of our guys back," coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think that's important. It gives us an opportunity to get better."

In his first year in Detroit, Ihedigbo was a Pro Bowl alternate after a season with 71 tackles, seven for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks in 13 games.

Ihedigbo was set to make $1.6 million on the second and final year of his deal in 2015, and he and his agent thought he deserved more after an impressive 2014.

Hesitant to give a raise to a man who turns 32 next season and struggled in Week 17 and the playoff loss in Dallas, the Lions have balked at Ihedigbo's demands to this point. He wouldn't say how optimistic he is that anything will change in the negotiations.

"It's the nature of the business," Ihedigbo said. "It's never anything personal. It has nothing to do with how an organization feels towards you or you feel towards an organization."

Ihedigbo's new agent, Jonathan Herbst, declined comment on negotiations Tuesday. His former agent, Marc Lillibridge, received a suspension last month from the NFL Players Association.

Ihedigbo said he plans to participate in the remainder of the offseason program, meaning the remaining OTAs and the mandatory minicamp that follows. Effectively, he missed a month of voluntary strength and conditioning while working out at home in Houston instead, but Ihedigbo's teammates were glad to see him return this week.

"This is an important part of the year and to have guys here is huge," safety Glover Quin said.

And while he's here, Ihedigbo said he'll try to be hands on with some of his younger teammates to help ensure the Lions' defense thrives once again in 2015.

"I'm here and my mindset is really to get better at my craft and help my teammates," he said.