The Detroit Lions are stuck in a bind. All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is slated to hit free agency after his rookie deal voided on Friday, leaving the Lions with a few options. Detroit can either slap Suh with the franchise tag, sign him to a new deal at any time, or allow him to hit free agency and hope for the best.
No other team can sign Suh before March 10, when the new NFL league year begins. Until then, the Lions have exclusive negotiating rights with the four-time Pro Bowler. Normally, Suh would be the ideal candidate for the franchise tag at the projected defensive tackle price of $9.65 million.
However, Detroit would have to pay Suh $26.89 million with a tag along with $9.7 million in dead money being tacked on. Ultimately, Suh would have an outrageous $36 million cap hit, the highest in the league. In 2014, Suh also had the highest cap hit at $23.2 million.
That cap hit is why his franchise tag number would be so large. The tag sets the contract at either the average of the top five players at a position, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary. Obviously, Suh's previous year's salary is much greater than the average top contracts for defensive tackles, hence the huge number.
Should the tag be applied, Detroit would have more than half its projected salary cap tied up in Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Suh. Yet general manager Martin Mayhew told Kyle Meinke of MLive.com that this remains an option.
"We want him back and we are willing to franchise him, transition him, whatever," Mayhew said.
More on Ndamukong Suh
Lions team president Tom Lewand stated last week that Detroit has every intention of keeping Suh, despite the financial ramifications, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
"We've had a good chunk of our salary cap tied up in three players over the last few years," Lewand said. "Matthew (Stafford), Calvin (Johnson) and Ndamukong have all had very lucrative contracts under the old rookie system, and even as Matthew and Calvin have done their extensions. So we've done that, we've lived in that environment. There's no reason we can't continue to live in that environment."
Detroit has time to figure out its plan of attack. The franchise tag can't be applied until Feb. 16 and the deadline for doing so is March 2, allowing for a two-week window. If the Lions try to sign Suh to a long-term deal, it is expected to cost somewhere around $100 million over five or six seasons, with half of that money guaranteed. Over at NFL.com, Chris Wesseling has Suh listed at the very top of the free-agent list.
Suh paced all defensive tackles with 12 quarterback hits and 37 hurries. He also finished with 8.5 sacks, third-best at the position.