Mayhew: Lions willing to use franchise tag on Suh

Losing Ndamukong Suh would be a major blow to a Lions' defense that has been built around the front four that he anchors.

Andrew Weber

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew remains as confident as ever — at least publicly — that he will be able to keep Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, an All-Pro defensive tackle, just completed his fifth year with the team that drafted him No. 2 pick overall in 2010, but he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Losing Suh would be a major blow to a Lions’ defense that has been built around the front four that he anchors.

Mayhew met with Suh Monday, a day after the Lions were eliminated with a 24-20 loss at Dallas in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

"I had a good conversation with him," Mayhew said Thursday during his season-ending news conference. "He wants to be here and we want him to be here. I think that’s a pretty good combination. We’ll see how it all plays out."

The Lions still could keep Suh from hitting the open market this year, but it would be at an extremely high price.

If they used their option of putting a one-year franchise tag on him, the price would be nearly $27 million for 2015.

"I’ll leave every option open in terms of dealing with him," Mayhew said. "We want him back. We are willing to franchise him, transition him, whatever."

A transition tag is another approach that teams can take with free agents. If Detroit uses the transition, instead of the franchise tag, then other teams could make an offer to Suh, but the Lions would be able to match it.

Mayhew called Suh "a big priority for us."

"I think the world of him," Mayhew said.

The GM added, "The good players tend to get paid more money. You have to be willing to pay those guys. We’re excited about what he has done for us in the past and what he can do for us in the future."

Still, Mayhew scoffed at the notion that the Lions will try to keep Suh "at any cost."

"At any cost?" Mayhew repeated. "No, I wouldn’t say that."

Mayhew wouldn’t comment on whether he is currently negotiating with Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, or when those negotiations might begin. Sexton wasn’t available for comment.

It’s been more than five months since the Lions decided to break off contract talks with Suh at the start of training camp in late July. The idea was to focus on football and worry about a contract later.

Since that time, Suh has had another standout season and, most importantly, it led to the Lions becoming one of the best defenses in the league.

What’s more, Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt helped establish a high-end market price by signing a six-year, $100 million contract that includes $51.8 million guaranteed.

Speculation is that Suh wants to exceed those figures and become the highest paid defensive player in the game.

"All those things are relevant in terms of doing a deal with him," Mayhew said. "I think that’s another reason why you wait. It more determines his market value based on other things that have happened around the league and what he’s done himself."

The Lions are coming off an 11-win season in which they made the playoffs for the second time in Suh’s five years.

Suh broke down in tears following Sunday’s game while discussing the disappointment of losing, along with the tight relationship he has with his teammates, especially the defensive-line group.

"I think the fact he really enjoys playing for coach Caldwell benefits us in pursuing him and trying to get him to come back to us," Mayhew said. "He likes to win. I know that. I know he’s very comfortable here in Detroit. So those things all play in our favor

"At the end of the day, though, money talks. We have to step up in terms of pursuing him financially as well."

Mayhew expects the NFL salary cap to increase by around $10 million, which would take it to more than $140 million.

But by already being committed to mammoth deals for quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions will remain extremely top-heavy in salary structure by re-signing Suh.

For instance, if they put the franchise tag on him, nearly half of the team’s salary cap in 2015 would be used on three players.

The sooner the Lions find out what’s going to happen with Suh, the better, according to Mayhew.

Detroit is the only team that can sign Suh before March, when free agency begins.

"I think it would benefit us to have an idea kind of where we’re going with that because, obviously, it requires a certain amount of room (in the salary cap) to get that deal done (and) it requires a certain type of cash commitment to get that deal done," Mayhew said.

"It would slow other things down if we were uncertain about whether it would get done or not."

In either case, Mayhew indicated he has a plan for how the Lions can make improvements to their roster.

He even sounded as if he believes they could be active in free agency regardless of how they keep Suh.

"I think we’ll be able to create room," Mayhew said. "Obviously, a long-term deal (with Suh) is a preference. It always is.

"We’ll evaluate it as we go. There will be ongoing dialogue and a sense of urgency to get something done."

TAKING THE HIGH ROAD

Mayhew wasn’t putting the blame for the Dallas loss on the officials, despite the controversial decision to pick up a flag for pass interference against the Cowboys with less than nine minutes remaining and the Lions leading by three points.

"We had every opportunity to do something to overcome that, do something positive to win that game and we didn’t," Mayhew said. "They (the Cowboys) made the plays down the stretch. They deserved to win and they deserved to advance.

"That’s the nature of our business. I’m from the old school of ‘no excuses, no explanation.’

"Did you win the game? No, we didn’t win it. They won it. They advanced. We hope to see them next year at some point."