The overly optimistic — even cocky — approach the Detroit Lions took publicly in trying to re-sign star free agent Ndamukong Suh remains puzzling.
It was Super Bowl Sunday when team president Tom Lewand went on a Detroit television station and confidently suggested that Suh soon would be locked up by the Lions.
"I really do believe that he’s got a lot invested here," Lewand said in an interview that aired on Feb. 1. "He wants to have success in the NFL, obviously, but he wants to do that with us.
"I think there’s a very, very good chance that we can get something done with him in the next few weeks."
How could Lewand have been so wrong? It was likely for one of three reasons:
1. The Lions wanted to sell as many season tickets as they could before losing Suh. (They can’t possibly be that dumb, can they?)
2. They terribly misread the market and Suh’s intentions.
3. They were badly misled by Suh.
Or, perhaps, some combination of the three — particularly the last two.
The Lions reportedly made a massive offer to Suh — six years, $102 million, with $58 million guaranteed — but he’s expected to sign with the Miami Dolphins for $12 million more overall and $2 million more guaranteed, plus the state-tax breaks of playing in Florida.
Barring an unexpected turn of events, all the Lions can do now is regroup and use the new-found financial flexibility wisely.
They certainly will be much weaker at defensive tackle because Suh is irreplaceable at that position. He’s an All-Pro who made the rest of the defense better because of the double-teams he took on. He’s also coming off his best season in the NFL.
But the Lions now have an opportunity to get stronger at some other positions to try to make up the difference.
That won’t be easy, but it’s all they’ve got because Plan A didn’t work. It’s now on GM Martin Mayhew and his personnel department to make sure the same doesn’t happen with Plan B.
The Lions are currently an estimated $17 million under the salary cap, but upwards of $5 million of that will be needed to sign their upcoming draft class.
They’ve got free agency and those picks to not only plug a massive hole in the middle of their defensive line, but also upgrade on the offensive line and cornerback, along with adding a No. 3 receiver and a running back to replace Reggie Bush.
Reports have been circulating in recent days about many of the top unrestricted free agents already agreeing to contract terms with new teams. Those deals, like with Suh, can’t be made official until after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The Lions, however, hadn’t been mentioned much in those rumors entering Tuesday. They were either having a hard time getting in the mix for the top candidates, were keeping it all very quiet or were in a holding pattern in the wake of the news that Suh is leaving.
With only one defensive tackle — Caraun Reid, a seldom-used fifth-round draft pick from last year — currently signed for the coming season, the Lions are probably in a position where they not only have to address the void with a quick fix in free agency but also by rebuilding through the draft.
The top D-tackles believed to be still on the market include Arizona’s Dan Williams, a big run-stuffer, and Detroit’s own Nick Fairley, who missed the last half of the 2014 with a knee injury.
Fairley’s $5.5 million option for 2015 wasn’t picked up last year by the Lions, so it’s questionable whether they would be willing to take the public-relations hit and possibly have to overpay for him now.
They might be more inclined to bring back another of their free agents, C.J. Mosley, who was a valuable part of the defensive-line rotation last season.
The one free agent who has been linked to Detroit is Kendall Langford, who made a visit to the team’s headquarters in Allen Park, Mich., last week. Langford became expendable by St. Louis after rookie Aaron Donald emerged as one of the league’s top defensive tackles last season.
If they sign both Mosley and Langford, the Lions could then try to add another quality defensive tackle in the draft.
One way to overcome being weaker upfront without Suh would be to get stronger on the back end.
But like defensive tackle, most of the top free-agent cornerbacks already appear to be set on where they’re going. The same is true with upgrading the offensive line, which was the weak link in an 11-5, playoff season.
Unless they can still somehow still find the right fits with what’s left of the free-agent crop, this looks like the year the Lions absolutely have to hit on their early draft picks, and target players who are ready to step in and contribute immediately.
That’s been a problem for Mayhew in the past, and it’s why the heat is being turned up on the Detroit GM.