The Cincinnati Bengals' contract agreement with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins provides a reminder that the Detroit Lions likely will soon find themselves in a complicated situation at the negotiating table with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Atkins will sign a five-year extension worth $55 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter and others. His $11 million average per year is second only to the Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata ($12.2 million) among veterans who have signed extensions. But as you know, at the time Suh was drafted, the NFL's rookie scale required a contract that still surpasses both of them.
Suh's rookie contract averages $12.6 million annually. He will be paid $12.1 million in cash this season and is scheduled for a $11.55 million salary in 2014.
But as we've discussed before, several years of restructuring Suh's contract for salary cap purposes have put the Lions in a position where they have two choices after this season. They'll either need to sign Suh to a contract extension or prepare for 2014 to be his final season with the team.
Why? Suh's salary cap figure for 2014 is $21.412 million. The Lions would surely prefer to bring that number down, but it won't be cheap. If Suh is already earning more than the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL, and if he has another Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2013, well, you can guess he won't be looking to take much of a pay cut in his new deal.
Suh's leverage would only be increased if the Lions let him play out his contract in 2014, after which he would be eligible for free agency because of a voidable 2015 year in his deal. The basis of negotiations for a new deal at that point would become the franchise tag, which because of NFL rules would be more than $25 million. It's the same rule that ultimately brought receiver Calvin Johnson receiving a $132 million contract in 2012. It also led the Houston Texans to bid farewell to defensive end Mario Williams in free agency.
Long story short: As Suh approaches the verdict season on his career in Detroit, he is still making more money than any player at his position. He is in line to set a new financial standard -- and then some -- if he chooses.