The last public images of Ndamukong Suh came a month ago, when he spoke teary-eyed from a podium in North Texas, crushed at what had happened that afternoon.
The defensive tackle’s season had ended in a playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys. His five-year stint with the Lions might have concluded as well. He asked then to keep questions focused on what happened in the game, and when he was asked about his future as a final question, he walked off the podium.
The parsing of Suh’s statements and whether or not he would re-sign with the Detroit Lions started well before then, but picked up even more once it became the highest of Lions priorities in the offseason.
That brought Sunday, when team president Tom Lewand said on a local television show, “Flashpoint,” that he believes there is a “very, very good chance” the team gets “something” done with Suh in the next few weeks. This on top of a report from colleague Chris Mortensen that said the Lions are the favorites to land Suh, as of now.
That the Lions have again stated this publicly is well and good until you understand this: Detroit’s front office has been expressing confidence it would re-sign the defensive tackle for a year now.
This started at Jim Caldwell’s hiring news conference, when Lewand said there was mutual interest in the defensive tackle returning. Then at the NFL combine last February, general manager Martin Mayhew said he believed a deal would get done on the eve of 2014 free agency or soon after the new league year. In March, Lewand told the team website there was “a long runway” to get a deal done – one that didn’t happen last offseason and led to tabled talks for the 2014 season.
The runway hasn’t expired yet, but it is reaching its end point.
Continuing to express confidence is smart for the Lions, because they want to – arguably need to – show the fan base they are committed to trying to retain Suh. All the attention then goes to Suh, which is where Detroit should want it. The Lions have the leverage with a franchise tag over $26 million for 2015 -- something the Lions could still theoretically use -- and the knowledge he’ll cash in massively if he hits the open market in March.
So take everything here with a small sliver of confidence if you want – but realize it is not substantially new. Until something is actually signed and/or announced with Suh, don’t fully believe he is returning to the Lions.
Part of the reasoning for that is all of the voices heard have come from the Lions side, and not from Suh. Suh has discussed his contract twice: Once at the start of last spring’s workouts and again when the sides tabled talks in July. Since then, whenever questions came up, his response came as a variation of the same thing: “Ask Jimmy,” as in his agent, Jimmy Sexton.
This isn’t to say Suh won’t end up returning to the Lions in 2015 and maybe beyond, either through the use of the franchise tag or a long-term deal he ends up agreeing to. But Suh took a gamble this season by playing out the last year of his deal.
Yes, he’s extremely durable, but he also is highly combustible at times with his emotions – see the history of fines and almost-suspension for Detroit’s playoff game that left him in tears. If he had been injured during 2014, his potential value could have taken a hit.
Yet he didn’t get hurt and had a fairly clean season other than the Aaron Rodgers ankle-step, so he did make it through his danger zone almost unscathed and now he can attract as much money as he wants on the free agent market from interested teams.
Suh has come this far, so it just seems odd he wouldn’t want to at least see what other teams might be interested in offering before making the decision whether or not to return to Detroit.