Lions set up '14 verdict on Ndamukong Suh

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
12:00
PM ET
I try not to saturate you with contract details at this or any other time of year, figuring most of you don't care how much a player makes unless it impacts his future and/or the makeup of the team. This week's contract renegotiation between the Detroit Lions and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is one such example.

Suh
The bottom line, before we get to the specifics: The Lions likely will find themselves at a crossroads with Suh next year at this time.

As best as I can tell, they will have two choices. They could be at the long-term negotiating table, as they are now with quarterback Matthew Stafford and were last year with receiver Calvin Johnson, to lower an astronomical 2014 salary cap number. Or they could be preparing for Suh's final season with the team.

Here are the details: This week, the Lions reduced Suh's 2013 salary-cap figure from $18.2 million to $10.942 million. They did it by converting most of his base salary to a signing bonus and then pro-rating it over the 2013, '14 and '15 seasons. His 2013 compensation won't change measurably, but the maneuver created about $7.5 million in 2013 cap space for the team.

As we all know, such moves provide only temporary relief. Suh is now projected to carry a $21.412 million cap figure for 2014. That's higher than the number the Lions are currently trying to reduce for Stafford ($20.8 million) through a long-term deal.

Suh's contract technically runs through the 2015 season, but that year is voidable -- meaning he almost certainly would be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. If the Lions want him to keep him long-term, next offseason is the time to make that happen.

Otherwise, if Suh plays out the 2014 season under his current contract, the NFL's franchise tag rules would dramatically limit the Lions' ability to retain him for 2015 and beyond. NFL rules would assign Suh a franchise tag figure of $25.7 million, far too high for any player and especially a defensive tackle. It would render the tag useless for the Lions and allow Suh to hit the free agent market, much like Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams did last winter.

If the Lions decide they don't want Suh long-term, they probably would have to live with his $21.412 million cap number in 2014. Releasing him before the season would still cost the Lions about $18 million against the 2014 cap, a minimal $3 million savings.

Much could change between now and then, but assuming the Lions still consider Suh a fundamental building block in the winter of 2014, he likely will be rewarded handsomely then as a matter of necessity.

(Contract details courtesy ESPN Stats & Information.)

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