The Lions had to know that, despite what was a competitive final offer -- $17 million a year with $58 million guaranteed over six years, according to a league source -- there could be a team swinging in with an even larger offer that would be impossible to turn down.
That team was Miami -- aided by income tax rules in Florida -- making the market too rich for Detroit. With the Dolphins offering $60 million guaranteed and $114 million overall, their offer was just a little bit too much for the Lions to really pull off. And being offered $60 million over the first three years of the deal is something the Lions -- and most other NFL teams -- could not have realistically matched.
Before you scoff at $2 million being not that much money, it is $12 million over the lifetime of the contract and $2 million in guaranteed money. If you’re Suh, you have to take that money. If you’re the Lions, that’s one or two potential difference-makers you could sign to your franchise in addition to the money you once had allocated to Suh.
The damage in those extra numbers would have severely hampered the overall bottom line of team building, even if it meant losing a player whom Detroit spent the past five seasons building around.
Even if it meant looking somewhat foolish after team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed confidence for over a year that they would be able to sign Suh to a long-term deal. Mayhew said at the 2014 combine that he felt a deal would get done by the start of last season’s free-agency period.
Lewand told a local TV station in February he believed a deal would be reached soon. It never happened, and despite the massive numbers involved and the competitive offer from the Lions, the front office should blame itself for reaching this point.
The Lions mismanaged Suh’s original contract for the past two-plus seasons, well before they even started dialogue in an attempt to re-sign him. This issue began when they restructured his contract to make cap room, forcing his franchise tag number up to close to $26.9 million for 2015. The mismanagement also led to the Lions still having Suh on the books for $9.7 million in 2015 even though he will be wearing a Dolphins uniform.
Using the franchise tag on Suh was essentially impossible when a nonrestructured franchise tag number could have been much more palatable. It ensured if the two sides couldn’t get a long-term deal done by Saturday that he was going to test the market with an end result that always appeared to be exactly what happened. Suh was going to the team that was able to pay him the most, and no one was going to realistically be able to top the bid the Dolphins put in.
So Suh walks away, and all the Lions are left with are polarizing memories, a couple of playoff appearances, a compensatory selection in 2016, some more cap room to play with and one giant, 90-shaped hole in the middle of their defensive line.
This is yet another area where the Lions failed to adequately prepare for the potential of a Suh departure.
One option is re-signing Nick Fairley, and there have been discussions between Detroit and Fairley’s representatives. But the Lions bungled this as well. In declining the fifth-year option for Fairley last offseason, it sent him to potential free agency -- something that’s about to happen in a little over 48 hours if a deal doesn’t get done.
If the Lions understood the potential of Suh leaving better earlier, they could have drafted Aaron Donald -- a Pro Bowler as a rookie -- at No. 10 instead of tight end Eric Ebron. That could have helped Detroit prepare for the loss of Suh, Fairley or both.
So there’s a chance the Lions could be without Suh and Fairley as their defensive tackles in 2015, which is stunning considering that defensive line was the strength of a good Detroit defense in 2014.
And all it really does is leave more questions about where the Lions will head from here.