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Don't blame Suh for not signing deal yet

The six-year contract Ndamukong Suh signed in 2010 voids in February, meaning he could be a free agent for the first time. AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh heard you.

It went somewhat unnoticed a month or so ago when he spoke with the general Detroit Lions media about his contract situation, but yes, he heard you. Or at least heard about you.

He heard about the criticism directed at him from everywhere -- that maybe the Lions should trade him because he has yet to sign an extension and he might not sign one. That he wasn't being a leader because he didn't show up at voluntary minicamp in April. That he should just sign his contract to help the Lions with their cap space since he currently occupies $22.4 million of it.

"For sure, I'm aware of it," Suh said. "I had friends, family, people that are close to me saying people were saying bad things about me and blah, blah, blah. There's people who are always going to talk bad about you. You have to be a deaf-mute if you didn't hear it.

"For me, from that standpoint, I hear it, but it doesn't necessarily bother me because I'm staying consistent in who I am and I'm going to be here prepared when it's time to go, as I am now."

Whether the criticism of his missing workouts was valid is one question. The criticism about Suh not signing a contract by the start of free agency -- or even by now -- is another. This is the issue for Suh and for many other players around the NFL.

They understand their time for making elite money is finite. Other than quarterbacks, that chance usually lasts one, maybe two contracts after their rookie deals.

Yet in team sports, those players are often chastised for trying to leverage and take as much time as they can to make sure they receive the best possible deal for themselves. This has happened with Suh, who has every right to work with his agent, Jimmy Sexton, to figure out what is the best possible strategy and option for him.

Players are often treated as commodities by fans when it comes to contracts, and realistically, by their play. They are expected to show loyalty to a franchise and a city that most of them have no connection to other than they were drafted by the team and had no choice but to spend the first three, four or five years of their careers there.

Sometimes it happens. Sometimes the match between team and player works so well, the player can't imagine being anywhere else. There is a tough line there, though. The line between loyalty and the reality of the NFL and the extremely cut-throat business it truly is.

If their production warrants, players are expected by fans to stay in one place their whole careers. If that production falters, those same fans and even some teams are quick to move because the cost benefit is no longer there on a player, especially those with high salary-cap numbers. That's how Emmitt Smith ended up in Arizona at the tail end of his career. Or how Chad Johnson ended up in the CFL, and Jerry Rice in Oakland, Seattle and, for not even a game, in Denver.

How often in any other career -- in which the earning span is much longer and your prime can be a decade or more -- does a person stay at a company for 30 or 40 years, which would be the real-world equivalent of an NFL career?

Before there is an argument over whether Suh is doing the right thing by taking his time, look at it from this perspective: Say, instead of an NFL player with a contingent of fans following him, Suh was a talented executive in the technology sector hitting his prime, with rare skills that make him a potentially valuable commodity on the open market. Would there be any question that person should at least test the open market if he wanted to? Would anyone criticize this person?

If the answer to those questions is "It's the American way to go after what you think you're worth," then you can't blame Suh for not snapping up a deal with Detroit immediately.

Suh is a player who, while polarizing, has lived up to what Detroit drafted (hired) him to do. He has an exceptional work ethic. His offseason training program has left him healthy every season.

Suh has been exactly what Detroit has wanted on the field. He's been a player who commands double-teams, yet he's still able to make plays when he has to. That often offsets his occasional lapses in judgment, including the stomp of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith that led to a two-game suspension, the only two games he has missed in his career.

Remember, this is the contract that should set Suh, his family and the next generation of his family up for life. He would be doing himself an injustice if he didn't investigate all avenues.

To be fair, Suh has indicated in the past he would at least like to try to stay in Detroit. The question is whether the team and the 27-year-old can come to an amicable decision on a contract both sides are happy with.

Until then, don't blame Suh for not signing a contract yet. He's doing what almost any other person in his position would do.