The Detroit Lions are currently in contract talks with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, according to Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. Detroit has Suh locked up through the 2014-15 season, but the following year -- what is technically the final year of his rookie contract -- can be voided. So it would be in the team's best interest to get him signed to a new contract sooner rather than later.
Suh is one of the NFL's top defensive tackles, even when you consider some of the on-the-field slip-ups he's been in regarding penalties. In this case, the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. Suh made the Pro Bowl last season, and that was considered a relatively "low key" season for him.
Unfortunately for the Lions, that means they'll have to pay up for his services. Suh is supposed to make an otherworldly $22.4 million in 2014, a holdover from when rookie contracts were uncapped. Fortunately, we're nearing the end of that period, and bloated rookie contracts are beginning to become a thing of the past.
But Suh's contract will continue to loom for the Lions until they can get him re-signed to an extension and restructure his deal. The team certainly can't release him, as his play on the field is instrumental to its success going forward and, as noted by Meinke, Suh's release would still count $9.7 million in dead money against the cap. Giving Suh the franchise tag would result in a one-year salary of $25.7 million.
So what is Suh's value when it comes to a contract extension? Well, he was named a first-team All-Pro for the second time in his short career this season, and is easily the biggest name on their defense. New head coach Jim Caldwell is an offensive-minded coach to be sure, but the team won't neglect the defense by any means. The Lions need Suh.
Suh is already the top-paid defensive tackle in the league, but that's due to his $64 million contract he signed as a rookie. Gerald McCoy is the second-highest paid at an average of $11 million per year, but his next contract will be significantly less than that. That's because McCoy is also playing on a huge rookie deal. Things get a lot smaller a lot more quickly after those contracts.
There is one in that same league, however. The Cincinnati Bengals recently gave Geno Atkins a huge contract, paying him $55 million over five years. Atkins was instrumental in Cincinnati making the playoffs over the past few seasons, earning two All-Pro honors and notching 12.5 sacks a season ago.
For even more recent numbers, the Lions could take a wait-and-see approach. Randy Starks of the Miami Dolphins and Henry Melton of the Chicago Bears are both pending free agents. Both had an average of about $8.5 million per season on previous contracts, and both have been stellar.
Neither have been as good as Suh, however. Detroit won't have to pay Suh the ridiculous $22.4 million he's set to make next season, but it'll have to open up the checkbook for certain. Atkins is earning an average of about $10.6 million per season, and the Lions will likely have to give Suh similar numbers, probably exceeding the five-year deal on principle alone.