With less than three weeks remaining until Ndamukong Suh could hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent, the Detroit Lions aren’t backing down from their stand that they’re still optimistic about reaching a long-term deal with their All-Pro defensive tackle.
General manager Martin Mayhew addressed the issue Wednesday during a news conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"Still working on it, still very optimistic," Mayhew said. "I think we have a lot of the essential elements that we need to get it done. He’s got a scheme that he likes playing in. He’s got passion for the game (and) you have a defense that plays with that kind of passion.
"He’s got a head coach (Jim Caldwell) he likes playing for, he’s got teammates he likes playing with. He wants to play for a winning team. We’ve got a team that can win right now.
"…My dialogue with him has been really good. We have everything he’s looking for. He likes the situation in Detroit. We have a good relationship. All those things make me very optimistic."
Mayhew wouldn’t say when a deal might be completed, just that he’s confident that Suh will be back.
In the end, however, he knows money will talk loudly.
"We’re prepared for what it takes financially to get him signed," Mayhew said. "We’re negotiating right now. With the players that can make an impact, that are really important to you, you have to make a serious financial commitment to them. We’re willing to make that commitment to Ndamukong."
The Lions still have the option of using the franchise tag on Suh to keep him out of free agency for another year.
The problem is that it comes at the price of $26.9 million for the 2015 season, which would create salary-cap issues for a team that is already paying huge salaries to quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson.
The window to use the tag on Suh started Monday and lasts until March 2.
"We’re still talking about it," Mayhew said. "We have not made a final determination about whether to use that or not.
"It’s not a no-brainer at all or we would have done it the first day we could do it. We’ve got some time to work on that."
Mayhew said he also plans to meet in Indianapolis with a representative of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, one of the Lions’ other potential free agents.
How it all plays out with Suh will greatly affect what the Lions can offer others.
"It’s a matter of setting some priorities and then understand there are some tradeoffs that have to happen," Mayhew said. "When certain things happen, other things don’t happen, and vice versa. The vast majority of it, a lot of it, revolves around Suh.
"I can see a scenario where we have Suh and Nick back, but I can also see a scenario where we have neither one of them."
REGGIE BUSH UPDATE
Running back Reggie Bush’s future remains unclear, which in reality suggests there’s a decent chance he’s played his last game for the Lions.
In answering a question referring to running backs, Mayhew made a point to mention Theo Riddick’s contribution in the pass game and Joique Bell’s ability to run between the tackles.
He didn’t mention Bush, who turns 30 in a couple weeks.
When asked whether they’ve made a decision on him, Mayhew said, "No, we haven’t at this point."
Bush, coming off an injury-plagued, unproductive season, has two years remaining on his contract, but the Lions could free up about $1.7 million in cap space by releasing the nine-year NFL veteran.