NFC North: Tom Lewand

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were still talking a good game Monday, even as they were announcing what felt like a bad scenario for the franchise when it came to one of its cornerstone players.

The team is tabling contract talks with polarizing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season -- a sign that, at the very least, the club and the player are somewhat far from being able to reach a deal that would benefit both sides.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions announced they will table any contract discussions with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014 season.
Considering how confident the Lions have been in the past with getting deals done and how confident they still acted Monday -- both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed optimism they would sign Suh eventually -- this is a big moment for the two of them.

The two often have said they were confident Suh wanted to be here and the team wanted him here. Mayhew went further, saying Monday that he continually felt at different points that a contract extension for Suh would happen soon. Then the combine passed. The start of the new league year passed. The draft passed.

Training camp arrived and the Lions still had no deal in place, leading them to decide to table the talks once camp began. That brings the Lions to this point, and to a risk for both sides.

For the Lions, another massive season from Suh could push his asking price beyond what he and agent Jimmy Sexton are likely asking for now, making it a very tough decision to try to re-sign him. For Suh, it’s a gamble because if he suffers a significant injury, his asking price could plummet. While there would still be suitors for his services, he would be a question mark for the first time in his career.

There is the school of thought that if Suh wanted to stay in Detroit, he would have reached a deal before the season started, as quarterback Matthew Stafford did prior to the 2013 season. But different contracts and different agents require different time frames, so this is the Lions’ hope now: that the latest snag is just a blip instead of a major sign that Suh will end up somewhere other than Detroit in 2015. He has indicated he would like to return, although often talk is just talk until pen and paper meet.

But Suh needs to do what’s best for him -- and that goes beyond a money angle, because he will be paid well no matter where he ends up. Detroit has a new coaching staff, one he is unfamiliar with. The Lions are a franchise that has never really shown the ability to win consistently -- hence the one winning season and one playoff appearance this century.

So if winning is important to Suh as he enters the prime of his career, it behooves him to see how he interacts with this coaching staff and how he will be used throughout the course of a season. It’s something that could be explained to him by coaches, but until he sees it, he won’t know for sure.

What ends up being best for Suh? The question now is whether Detroit is the answer to that question -- and it is an answer only he will know.
From the beginning, there always seemed like a demarcation line of concern when it came to the ongoing contract discussions with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Even though he switched agents this offseason and there always appeared to be something keeping negotiations between Suh and the Lions from progressing, there was optimism the two sides would come to a deal by the time training camp started.

Suh
Training camp begins Monday with veterans reporting Sunday. And now colleague Chris Mortensen is saying a team source told him the team is not optimistic about reaching a deal by the start of camp.

With it, the Lions can officially become concerned about whether or not Suh will be with the team beyond this season. Suh has seemed like a player who would not want to have contract discussions during a season, especially if he is now potentially playing for a new deal either with Detroit or elsewhere.

It would behoove the Lions to say they would not negotiate during the season. Doing so gives a timeline for any real negotiations and eliminates what would otherwise be a constant distraction for a franchise needing to minimize them at every possible cost.

This leaves Detroit and the Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, with two potential windows to hatch a deal -- if there is even the true desire to do so: Either between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season, or between the end of the season and the start of free agency.

If the Lions were smart, they would push to not have Suh play out the season with free agency looming. Another huge season from him and he may want to test free agency no matter what, just to see what he could command on the open market as one of the top players at his position.

Either way, the concern about Ndamukong Suh is now real and it should lead to an interesting few weeks as a sidebar to Detroit’s training camp.

This also sets up one of the worst-case scenarios for Detroit when it chose to decline the fifth-year option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If Suh does not get a deal done, there is a real chance the team could lose their first-round picks from 2010 and 2011 after 2014.

It would decimate the interior of a defensive line the Lions built around the past few seasons.

Of course, the Lions can keep Fairley around by either tagging him or re-signing him if he has the season Detroit is hoping for.

None of this is to say Suh is wrong at all. He has every right to have his agent negotiate the best possible deal for him considering the finite nature of his profession. It is exactly what Suh is paying Sexton for.

But if Suh really wants to be in Detroit and really wants to help the Lions turn into a winning franchise, he would push his agent to finish a deal before Sept. 8, when the Lions play on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants.

A week ago, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand said the plan for the team was to win now and that he didn’t have a five-year plan in place.

The five-year plan bit triggered something almost as soon as he said it -- and it popped up again after general manager Martin Mayhew said the team wouldn’t be picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Fairley has been a maddening player for Detroit. He has first-round talent, but has not been able to put any of that together consistently, which appears to be why the Lions have made this decision, especially since keeping him around would have cost $5.5 million in 2015.

Mayhew told reporters this move is to motivate Fairley for this season -- and this is where the five-year plan problem comes in again. Planning, though, has the history of backfiring from time to time. This is what the Lions have to hope doesn't happen now that they are going to take a massive risk on their future in order to win now.

While it is good to be adaptable and flexible, the Lions have now put themselves in a position where there is a chance they could lose both of their starting defensive tackles -- the same tackles they spent first-round picks on in 2010 and 2011 -- at the end of next season. Theoretically, after the threat of possibly losing Ndamukong Suh, they could also lose their top three tackles as C.J. Mosley is also in the final year of his deal.

Suh
This puts immense pressure on Detroit to make sure it gets a deal done with Suh, and while the Lions appear confident it will happen -- they could have waited before making a decision on Fairley. Now, if negotiations with Suh aren’t fruitful over the next few months, a defense built solely around a strong front four would be losing its most critical interior pieces.

Those are decisions that can blow up plans for a coaching staff and an organization if they get it wrong.

When it comes to Fairley, this feels like it could mean 2014 is the final season he is in Detroit. If Fairley responds well to this somewhat bizarre motivational tactic, he could then choose to test free agency and see what his market value is. If he doesn't respond, he is gone anyway.

As long as the team retains Suh, they can handle that.

But there is the doomsday for Detroit option in play now. Suh chooses to leave. Fairley plays well and also decides to bolt. And now there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Lions' defensive line that will need to be rebuilt with immense speed.

Why?

It goes back to Lewand and the need to win now. This decision backs up his statement of not having a five-year plan and of having immense urgency to win now. Sometimes what makes sense in the short term doesn’t work for the long term and in this case, the Lions need to hope they are right with this decision.

Otherwise a lot more than one player might need to be overhauled.
DETROIT -- They said this from the beginning and now, after two months of the same mantra over and over again, the Detroit Lions might just have to follow through on it.

Since the Lions hired Jim Caldwell in mid-January, both he and team president Tom Lewand have been consistent in the same message. They hired Caldwell to win. And win immediately.

“It’s a year of, 'Let’s go right now,'" Lewand said during an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “There’s no five-year plan.”

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Lions hired coach Jim Caldwell, in part because many of their best players are in their primes.
While that might sound somewhat concerning for Detroit in the long term -- ideally, one would think the Lions should plan for the present and the future at the same time -- it also crystallized his point. Detroit is working with a somewhat shrinking window to win with its current roster.

Calvin Johnson is 28 years old, turns 29 in September, and has been dealing with knee issues the past couple of seasons. Reggie Bush turns 30 next year. Joique Bell will be 30 by the end of his contract. Matthew Stafford is entering his prime, and Ndamukong Suh is about to either enter his last year in Detroit or become signed to a massive long-term contract.

The ages and contract statuses of its stars made Detroit a somewhat enviable place for a coach to land, despite the franchise’s culture and history of ineptitude and losing. It is why Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew really focused on coaches with prior head-coaching experience -- and prior NFL head-coaching experience -- when they conducted their search to replace Jim Schwartz.

It’s how they landed on Caldwell, and in Caldwell they are all entrusting their present and their futures.

“I was one of those people who didn't know Jim Caldwell before we started this process, but I was remarkably impressed with the people who spoke so highly of him,” Lewand said. “Bill Polian. Ozzie Newsome.

“John Harbaugh, who I have known for years, he called me up and said, ‘Look, this is a guy who I sit in the back of the room in our meetings in Baltimore when he’s presenting the offense and I think he’s the head coach. He’s that impressive to me. I couldn't speak more highly of him.'"

This is what sold the Lions on hiring Caldwell, who has now been on the job two months and has hired a staff and brought in his first high-level free agent. He’s the man who Lewand and Mayhew are constructing a team for.

Because Lewand and Mayhew have placed their futures in with this group of players and this coaching staff, so they have no other option except to trust. And to win immediately.

Even if they fail, Lewand was right to dismiss a five-year plan, because it's possible none of them would be around to implement it anyway.
DETROIT – Over the past week, the Detroit Lions draft needs have changed a little bit.

The team brought in Golden Tate to be the No. 2 receiver and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew as the team's tight end. While the signings don't mean those needs have evaporated for Detroit – the Lions need receivers still and could use a stretch-the-field tight end – it made both of those spots less important to draft in the first round.

It also gives Detroit some flexibility, as does not have to draft a quarterback.

The Lions would potentially consider trading up in May's draft or dropping back from the No. 10 slot in the first round. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew recognize that every option needs to be available.

"It always sounds good on paper to trade up or trade back. The old adage is it takes two to tango and sometimes opportunities present themselves for trades on draft day or outside of draft day and sometimes they don't," Lewand said Monday night at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "Our position is we always have to be ready to improve our team in whatever way is possible.

"Sometimes we search those things out and they don't materialize and sometimes they are presented to us and we take advantage of them. We have to be ready, no matter what the opportunity is, if there's a chance to improve the defense by trading up or trading back, we'll look at that and if it makes sense, we'll do it."

May's draft offers some intriguing opportunities there. But who would be worth the Lions making a move from No. 10 -- either up or back -- for? That depends somewhat on how the draft falls and somewhat how the Lions final board ends up being set up.

This also focuses mostly on defense.

WORTH MOVING UP:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins is the top receiver in the draft and the only offensive player that would be worth making a move higher into the Top 10 for, although even then, it would be questionable how much Detroit should be willing to give up for him. Watkins is a special talent, but having grabbed Tate in free agency, that alleviated receiver from being the No. 1 need. But if Watkins ends up still on the board at No. 8, it might be worth exploring jumping over Buffalo to ensure Detroit grabs him.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Just putting him here in case the inexplicable happens and he drops beyond the third or fourth pick. If he does, the Lions should trade whatever possible to go and select him. But it would be very, very, very unlikely to happen.

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: Mack may be the best non-Clowney defensive prospect in the draft and for a little while, it appeared he might end up falling to No. 10. If he did, Mack would almost be a no-brainer selection for Detroit as long as Watkins was no longer available. If Detroit determines Mack is the best player in the draft, it could be worth investigating a move higher for a linebacker that could end up being an All-Pro.

STAY PUT IF THIS PLAYER IS HERE:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions should address their needs on defense by taking linebacker Anthony Barr in the first round.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: The Lions are clearly intrigued by Barr, who has extreme athleticism and could improve a good but not great linebacker group immediately. Mayhew was out at his Pro Day to watch him perform. His speed/size/frame combination makes him extremely intriguing.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M/Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: They are both options for Detroit at this spot, but both positions are deep in this draft and are no longer massively pressing needs due to the signings at the top. But if Mayhew and Lewand wanted to go offense, these would be two likely targets.

IF THIS IS THE TARGET, TRADE DOWN AND TAKE A CHANCE:

There are teams below Detroit with needs and other than the defensive backfield, there is not a major pressing need for the Lions in the first round. So the Lions could make a smart play depending who is available and who is interested and try to trade down to stockpile picks in a deep draft. These four potential targets could merit a trade down.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: He has already come in for a visit with the Lions and is one of the top safeties in the draft. He is rated as the No. 16 overall player and has long, rangy arms. He'll almost definitely be available at No. 10, but if the Lions covet him, they could probably drop down a few places and still nab him.

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Similar situation to Clinton-Dix. He's a little bit shorter than his Alabama counterpart at 5-foot-11, but he was listed as 6-foot-2 in college. He's rated one spot ahead of Clinton-Dix as the No. 15 overall player and should be available at No. 10, too. For either safety, Detroit could probably trade down as low as No. 14 or No. 15 and still be able to take either player.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State/Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The top two cornerbacks in the draft are both of first round value and should almost definitely be available when Detroit is picking. If the team decides corner is the area they want to go in the first round, they could drop a couple of places and select one of these players.

IF PICKING TODAY, I'D TAKE:

Barr. Offense may be sexy, but the Lions need to focus on and improve their defense from back to front. They have two strong running backs, two dynamic wide receivers and can add in the draft. But to find an impact starter in the first round, Detroit would benefit from going defense with its first pick and Barr could be the best available. (Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press agreed with this earlier this week)
DETROIT -- Throughout the first week of free agency, the Detroit Lions continued to focus on offense, the part of the game the team is most known for and the part of the game that has produced the more gaudy numbers for the team in recent years.

The offensive power is strong. The offensive power added receiver Golden Tate, retained tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued to stockpile players attempting to score.

Ihedigbo
But what about defense? The other side, the side that helped Seattle win a Super Bowl last season. The side of the ball where Detroit has noticeably struggled in recent seasons despite the drafting of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah in the first round of three of the past four drafts.

A lot of focus is on the Lions’ sub-par pass defense -- the cornerbacks struggled yet again in 2013 -- but Lions president Tom Lewand looks at pass defense as encompassing everyone on the defense.

“When you’re talking about pass defense, you’re not just talking about defensive backs,” Lewand said Monday at the MGM Grand. “I think you have to talk about everybody on the defense, because they all defend the pass.

“We built our team up front, and I won’t change a thing about that. Giving the quarterback a very short time to throw the ball, create a lot of pressure.”

Yet the Lions have not made any real impact moves defensively during free agency. They signed two defensive linemen for depth -- Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp -- and let a productive defensive end, Willie Young, leave for Chicago.

In the secondary, the Lions have only visited with one free agent, safety James Ihedigbo, and he left without signing a contract. That might happen, but until it does, that leaves Detroit without any impact changes in the defensive backfield. The most noticeable move they have made was bringing in Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a potential first-round pick, for a visit Monday.

But the Lions say they are trying to, and have in the past, made attempts to improve their defense.

“Are we looking at ways to strengthen our team and our defense, absolutely,” Lewand said. “I think we have to do that. We lost Louis Delmas to the Miami Dolphins, and we’ve been looking at ways to add to our secondary.

“I think we’ve done that the last few years, whether it’s drafting a number of defensive backs in the middle rounds, in the second round last year with Darius Slay, and we see a lot of those young corners developing.”

It is possible Detroit could add to that, too. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said at his introductory news conference that he could never have enough cornerbacks. He has a lot of young ones, but few proven ones other than Chris Houston, who had an inconsistent 2013.

So it is still an area the team could draft, both at corner and safety, in May as the Lions search for whatever way possible to improve their team.
DETROIT -- It started with a profile, because pretty much everything with the Detroit Lions these days begins with a conversation to put together the vision in their heads.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonGolden Tate, a four-year NFL veteran, will be expected to fill out the Lions' receiver set.
It is how Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew brainstormed the criteria they would like in their next head coach after they fired Jim Schwartz in December. And not surprisingly, it is what they did again when they hit free agency last week.

They all met together -- scouts, coaches and front office staff -- and put together exactly what they would be looking for in each need position in free agency. That included wide receiver, where the Lions have made their biggest move thus far.

“We put together a position profile that says this is the kind of skill set we need to have," Lewand said Monday evening at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “Then you have a profile and these are the guys who are available. Who are the guys that are available in free agency that match that profile and Golden Tate was a guy who matched that profile in that complementary receiver to Calvin (Johnson).

“A guy that brings certain skills."

What were those skills?

Lewand didn't get into specifics when discussing his team's newest receiver acquisition, but by parsing together various statements throughout the past three months from Lewand and new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions appeared to focus on three factors.

First was hands, and considering Detroit's issues with merely catching the ball a season ago, this became obvious. The Lions dropped 46 passes last season -- 7.5 percent of Matthew Stafford's throws. Tate, meanwhile, has dropped seven passes in his four seasons and has a 2.7 percent drop rate.

So that's an obvious improvement.

“It's very important and that's why we're receivers is because we can catch the ball, although sometimes it might not seem that way," Tate said. “One thing that I did notice from watching (Matthew) Stafford throw the ball (last week) when I was meeting with coach (Joe) Lombardi is that sometimes Stafford will throw a covered guy open.

“What I mean by that is he might throw a back shoulder or throw it high and to the right and I feel like that's one thing I excel at is catching low balls and balls that are outside my frame."

Second was the ability to make contested catches. Tate has no issue doing that, often being able to leap up between cornerbacks and safeties to come down with the ball despite his 5-foot-10 frame. He can fight on the shorter and intermediate routes along with battling cornerbacks on deeper patterns. Going along with that toughness is his ability to block. He is a more than willing blocker and is actually good at it for his size.

Third was not verbalized, but Caldwell spoke at Tate's introductory news conference that they were looking for someone with leadership and character. Tate grew in these areas during his first four years in the NFL, culminating in winning a Super Bowl last season.

Additionally, he is used to playing alongside another top receiver, as he did that at Notre Dame opposite Michael Floyd, now with Arizona.

So when Detroit brought Tate in last week, it knew what it wanted to accomplish -- and was assisted by the snow.

“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm," Lewand said. "He came in the night before, came in late Tuesday night, and we knew the snow was going to come and it was going to be hard for him to get out to his next destination."

The team woke him up at 6 a.m. -- 3 a.m. on Tate's body clock time -- for his physical and by noon, instead of visiting the stadium, all he wanted was the nap he spoke about at his news conference later last Tuesday.

By then, Detroit knew it received its complementary pass catcher to Calvin Johnson and now any concern shifted from whether he fit the profile the Lions set to how he will fit once the team actually begins practice next month.

So goes the risk with any free agent. Until a team sees how he blends in during practice and what his role ends up being and that he can remain healthy, bringing in new players becomes educated guesswork.

“You want that vision to come to fruition, but there are a lot of different factors," Lewand said. “You don't make or break your team in free agency. You can add strategically."

With the signing of Tate, that's what Detroit believes it did.
The Lions, lying in wait for this new year...

DETROIT -- It was one of those questions that gets asked during an hour-long interview, a throwaway of sorts that could lead a subject anywhere and into any spot.

There were a few of those Monday night during Tom Lewand's hour with Bernie Smilovitz at the TAP restaurant at MGM Grand, but one stuck out. Smilovitz, about 45 minutes or so into the interview, asked Lewand what he would do if he could be the NFL Commissioner for a day.

The first part of his answer was somewhat expected -- to try to improve player health and safety. He said while he felt it has been good, "it has to get better."

The second part was a bit more unexpected.

While Lewand wouldn't go as far as to allow cameras into the locker room for halftime strategy sessions or even halftime speeches as college basketball has done in recent years, he expressed a desire to give fans more experiences in the stadium.

And to make the fan experience more enjoyable -- including some access via video to locker rooms before the game.

"We want to have exclusive opportunities to consume our game," Lewand said.

How the NFL does this could go a multitude of directions and, have fun with this in the comments, what would you like to see to improve your time at football games?

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
DETROIT -- Tom Lewand wouldn't go into specifics and declined to chat about individual players Monday night, but he gave a hint that the Detroit Lions might not be done in free agency yet.

This despite not having a ton of cap room remaining to sign players and the rookie class, but that can always be worked around with contract restructures and a potential Ndamukong Suh contract extension.

[+] EnlargeTom Lewand
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiTom Lewand and the Lions may still have a move to make in free agency.
Of course, Lewand indicated Monday that even if Suh did sign an extension, it wouldn't free up as much cap room as one might think and that the entire salary cap process is more complicated than looking at one year, but rather a multi-year plan.

That said, don't expect Detroit to be finished finding players.

“I wouldn't say that,” Lewand said following an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “We're always looking at ways to improve the team.”

He wouldn't project anything, but Detroit still needs to sign a safety -- they brought James Ihedigbo in for a visit last week -- and a veteran backup quarterback, so some moves will still make sense.

Lewand said the team's backup last season, Shaun Hill, is in St. Louis visiting the Rams, but that he has kept lines of communication open with Hill and his representatives for a potential return to the Lions.

Hill has been with the Lions for four seasons, primarily as the backup to Matthew Stafford, who the team drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.

“Having a good backup is hopefully never necessary,” Lewand said. “But it is a good insurance policy.”

The Lions have signed five free agents since the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon: Receivers Kevin Ogletree and Golden Tate, defensive linemen Darryl Tapp and Vaughn Martin and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The team also kept running back Joique Bell on the roster for the next three seasons with an extension on Tuesday, right before the start of the new league year.

“Joique is a great guy,” Lewand said. “Great running back. Great story for the city.”

Lewand said part of the reason Detroit has been able to attract higher-profile free agents -- Tate this offseason and Reggie Bush last season -- is because of the dynamic of playing with Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Suh along with being able to create cap-friendly, non-top dollar deals with players.

That, he said, didn't exist as much a few seasons ago. Of course, the Lions were also one of the worst teams in the NFL a few seasons ago.

That is no longer an issue, as the Lions have now become a franchise that is at least able to be competitive, although has still not won their division since the NFL shifted to their current makeup.
DETROIT – Ndamukong Suh doesn't have a contract extension from the Detroit Lions yet, but team president Tom Lewand doesn't appear bothered by this.

Instead, he said the Lions never planned on having a Suh extension as a pillar of what they needed to have done by the start of free agency.

"It's not been frustrating," Lewand said following an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "We said it months ago. We didn't have a deal with Matthew Stafford done until later in the summer. The timing of the Suh deal was never the factor when it came to planning for free agency.

"We were saying it months ago. We're saying it again now."

The Lions did not sign Stafford to an extension until July of 2013, well after the start of free agency. Lewand would not go into specifics of where the sides are in the negotiating process now or if negotiations have, in fact, begun between the Lions and Suh -- headlined by his agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Lewand also insisted that the Lions wouldn't have had that much more cap room this season had a deal been done to knock down Suh's $22.4 million cap number prior to free agency. His reasoning was that the way he views the cap is in multi-year terms as the team tries to make sure everyone fits in a certain year.

Suh is entering the final year of his original rookie deal -- one of the last top picks to have a deal under the previous collective bargaining agreement, which allowed for higher rookie salaries than the current CBA does. Due to that, Lewand believes many of the teams that have taken advantage of rookie contracts under the new CBA -- Seattle and San Francisco among them -- will soon have cap situations similar to the Lions.

"If you only look at a guy's cap number and you say that all of a sudden that creates a lot more room to sign free agents, it really doesn't because then you're signing new players and you have to fit all those guys into 15 and 16 as well," Lewand said. "So you have maybe a lower cap number for a particular player in one year but it means, almost by definition that it's going to be a higher number in future years so you have to be able to fit all of those dollars in a certain time frame.

"That's why it's not that linear."

The Lions have between $2 million and $3 million in cap space after signing Golden Tate to a five-year deal and re-signing Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year deal last week.

The other issue with Suh and the lack of an extension was Suh's decision not to hire Sexton until March 7, less than a week before free agency began. Combine that with the death of William Clay Ford Sr. and there was little-to-no time to even begin substantive negotiations with the defensive tackle entering his fifth season in the league.

He reiterated what both he and general manager Martin Mayhew have said since the end of the season -- that they believe a deal will get done with Suh.

"Ndamukong has said he wants to stay and we want him to stay," Lewand said. "Generally when that happens, you can get a deal in place."

If the Detroit Lions are going to lock up Ndamukong Suh for the long term, it would behoove the organization to get the move done as quickly as possible.

As in before March. Before the start of this free agency cycle, where Suh’s $22,412,000 cap number for 2014 becomes a giant albatross for Detroit as it tries to bring in more talented players and construct the team how new coach Jim Caldwell would like it to be.

Suh
Knocking Suh’s number down would go a long way to opening up more space to possibly sign some mid-range price range free agents, much like the Lions did last season in bringing in running back Reggie Bush and safety Glover Quin -- two of the team’s better offseason acquisitions.

Of course, keeping Suh around helps on the field as well, as he has been one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL. Teams routinely scheme around him, sending double teams at him almost every play.

Having Suh as one of the defensive anchors, much like having Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson on the offensive side, can attract other players to the Lions. It is as simple as good players want to play with other good players, especially in football, where the only way a team can be successful is by having top players at as many positions as possible.

So getting a deal done would be helpful for the Lions on multiple levels. It would open up cap space. It would tie Suh to Detroit. And it could give the Lions freedom to perhaps pursue higher-level free agents at cornerback, safety and wide receiver, three areas where the team needs the most help.

The biggest question about the actual deal is whether the team can come to terms with Suh, who would be a valuable commodity on the free agent market if he tested it out. That is what he and his camp need to weigh -- the value of keeping themselves in the same place long term versus a potentially bigger payday elsewhere. That is a decision the Lions' front office needs to figure out as well. How much is too much for Suh, and how critical are defensive tackles in Teryl Austin's new defensive scheme.

Those two factors will almost certainly play into any negotiation from the team's side of things.

Both Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew have said in the past two weeks that there is mutual interest in keeping Suh. Suh told MLive in May that the Lions are “an organization I love being a part of and playing for.”

How much longer he’ll be doing that will likely be seen within a few months.
On the day Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew fired Jim Schwartz, the two of them sat at a dais and explained how their new hire needed to get them “over the hump” and how they had one of the top openings in the NFL.

But more than anything, they also insisted they would give an exhaustive search in finding the right coach for Detroit, the coach who could do what none of the others in the past have been able to -- create a consistent winner and get to a Super Bowl. This is, after all, a franchise where the history is losing, losing and more losing.

They wanted to find the "right fit" for the Lions. And all those cliches aside, that is what they have to do.

“We will go through the process,” Lewand said. “I think going through a thorough process is extremely important. That doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a long process, but it has to be a thorough process. We will go through a process of interviews and research to make sure that we find the best fit for the Detroit Lions.”

Doesn’t feel like it now. Detroit lost out on its top candidate, Ken Whisenhunt. It didn’t even receive an opportunity to seriously interview another, Lovie Smith.

For all of Detroit’s talk about a thorough search for an attractive opening, right now, the Lions don’t appear to be as attractive and from the choices that have been mentioned as considered thus far, feels like a narrower search than a thorough one.

Detroit has interviewed, at least as what is known publicly, four candidates. All are essentially different variations of the same mold of a coach -- head coaching experience on the NFL level, offensive mind. In three of the four cases, they have experience with quarterbacks.

When the Lions were going after Whisenhunt, a coordinator in demand, it made sense to focus on him and push it if he was identified as your top choice. But he chose Tennessee over Detroit on Monday night, leaving the Lions hunting through the rest of their candidates.

And here’s the point. No one is hiring any of the other candidates immediately. Cleveland might go after Mike Munchak and he has talked with other teams about becoming their offensive line coach, so if he is Detroit’s No. 2 choice, then maybe the Lions have to make a decision. No one still with an opening has publicly tried to interview Jim Caldwell. Gary Kubiak is talking with teams about offensive coordinator positions, not head coaching jobs.

So wait. Take your time, Detroit. Be thorough. Expand your idea since Whisenhunt is no longer an option and Smith never truly was. Go back to the beginning. Wait to talk to Adam Gase from Denver or Seattle’s Darrell Bevell or Dan Quinn or even San Francisco’s Greg Roman. They may not have the head coaching experience, but at this point, anyone the Lions hire will not have the feeling of a sure thing, can’t-miss hire. There will be risk.

Or fully investigate the college route again. There has been no evidence Detroit has tried to look into this or fully vetted any potential college candidates -- even ones with prior NFL experience. The college break worked well for Pete Carroll in Seattle and Chip Kelly had success in his first year in the NFL. Not every coach can make the successful leap from college to the pros, but it might be worth seeing if there is a guy who makes sense on that level.

To be fair, it is possible Detroit has investigated some college candidates. It is possible there are names the Lions have spoken with that haven’t been reported or discovered on the college level because even rumors of a college coach searching could send recruits flying away.

But the reality is none of these candidates are really going anywhere now. They are all available to you, either now or after their teams lose. Perception has changed. The favorite is gone. Now, if Detroit hires anyone else -- at least among the current names -- in the next day or so, it will look like settling.

With this hire, especially after losing out on Whisenhunt and big talk about being such a strong job, initial perception is going to be important. So relax, let things settle down and go talk to more candidates. If Caldwell or Munchak are still your top guy after that, then hire them. Then you can sit there and say confidently you looked everywhere and feel like this is the best available choice.

Right now, it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like the Lions are looking to settle for the best available choice of the remaining options that were initially presented.
When the Detroit Lions fired Jim Schwartz on Dec. 30, team president Tom Lewand said he believed his team had the most attractive opening in this coaching cycle.

Not, apparently, for everyone.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsKen Whisenhunt, who was clearly the Lions top candidate, chose the Tennessee Titans over Detroit.
Ken Whisenhunt, the San Diego offensive coordinator who seemed destined to be Detroit’s head coach from the moment the team let go of Schwartz, decided to go to Tennessee instead of the Lions.

And by any metric, that is a blow for the Lions, no matter how the team eventually tries to spin it when they do hire a coach. Whisenhunt was clearly their top candidate from the start and had a lot of what the team clearly thought would be attractive to him.

An established quarterback in Matthew Stafford. A star wide receiver in Calvin Johnson. A good running back tandem in Joique Bell and Reggie Bush. A strong offensive line. A relationship with general manager Martin Mayhew.

None of that mattered at the end. Whisenhunt chose Tennessee and that is nothing short of a major question mark as to how good the Lions job really is. This was the job search where Detroit seemed focused on being able to get its first choice, a choice it could sell to its fans as a step toward the future.

A step away from collapse after collapse the Lions have suffered from season to season and from coach after coach throughout the history of their franchise.

So this is a perception problem for Detroit now. Unless the Lions are able to pull off an unexpected, unreported hire, the team will likely be hiring at least their second option -- and considering Bill O’Brien and Lovie Smith moved so quickly off the table, probably a deeper option than that.

ESPN Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen are reporting the Lions are now focusing their attention on the first coach they interviewed in the process, Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Caldwell has a somewhat similar résumé to Whisenhunt in that he has a quarterback pedigree, having worked with Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, and led Indianapolis to the Super Bowl in 2009, a game the Colts lost to New Orleans, 31-17. Caldwell has many of the same traits as Whisenhunt and does fit the team’s profile.

But Caldwell only lasted three seasons in Indianapolis and when he didn’t have Peyton Manning, the Colts plummeted to 2-14 in 2011, leading to Caldwell’s firing. The Colts, instead of trusting Caldwell with rebuilding the team without Manning, chose to go in another direction entirely.

The one good thing for Detroit here is John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, said Caldwell pitched his organization and what he would do to improve the franchise. So, at the very least, he has a plan.

The other likely candidate at this point is former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak, who was fired by Tennessee last week.

So it is possible Detroit gets a coach who ends up being successful -- and in Caldwell's case, one who coached in the Super Bowl -- but at the start, it'll be a tough sell for the Lions after they clearly missed on who they wanted from the start.
At noon Monday, the Detroit Lions' coaching search will officially hit its second week, with some candidates already off the board and others available to talk for the first time.

“We will go through the process,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said when he and Martin Mayhew announced they had fired Jim Schwartz last Monday. “I think going through a thorough process is extremely important.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a long process, but it has to be a thorough process.”

Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell already interviewed and is the only known candidate to formally do so. John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, told ESPN.com last week that Caldwell was told the Lions would get back to him in a few days after his Friday interview.

Now starting its second week, much of the focus will begin with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who is a candidate for some of the five current NFL openings.

While requests to talk with coaches have yet to go out or be made official, here are some of the candidates the Lions might target:

Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego offensive coordinator: It would be beyond stunning if Whisenhunt did not interview with the Lions this week. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday it is essentially his job to lose, which makes sense considering he fits all of the qualities Detroit is looking for in its next coach. The downside for Whisenhunt is the Lions cannot hire him for at least another week, as they can’t make an official move -- if they choose to do so -- until San Diego is out of the playoffs. But they can at least chat with him this week if they would prefer.

Jay Gruden, Cincinnati offensive coordinator: Schefter mentioned him as someone Detroit would likely want to talk with as well, as he has played a major role in developing quarterback Andy Dalton (and you can argue whether that is good or bad after his performance Sunday, but he has been a very good regular-season quarterback). He has also been a head coach before in the AFL and UFL and was successful there. Another thing to watch with Gruden is his ties to agent Bob LaMonte, who also lists Detroit senior personnel executive Brian Xanders among his clients.

Greg Roman, San Francisco offensive coordinator: Like Whisenhunt, if the Lions want to talk to Roman, they can talk, but not hire since San Francisco is still in the playoffs. His name has not come up as much as Whisenhunt and Gruden, but he has been a head coaching candidate before and he has developed a dynamic offense with the 49ers. It is unknown how much Roman really helped develop Colin Kaepernick, though, as he has a bevy of coaches with quarterback experience in San Francisco, including Jim Harbaugh, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst and offensive assistant Ronald Curry. He has coached David Carr, Andrew Luck and Kaepernick, though.

Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati defensive coordinator: He isn’t an offensive coach and he does not have head coaching experience, but Zimmer led one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL and has been a defensive coordinator since 2000. He’s also been close in the past, interviewing for the Cleveland job last season. In Mayhew’s news conference to discuss firing Schwartz, he mentioned that an offensive coach wasn’t a dealbreaker for the Lions, but that whomever the team hired would have to bring in someone to work with Matthew Stafford. If Zimmer gets an interview, that would have to be a strong part of his presentation to truly be considered.

Other names that might get a look: Cincinnati assistant and former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson; Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There isn’t a particular moment, it seems, where Jim Schwartz definitively lost his job with the Detroit Lions. At least it doesn’t feel like that.

Instead, over the past two months of this season, as the Lions collapsed yet again under his watch with so many of the same mistakes happening in perpetuity, there were multiple moments that seemed to doom Schwartz in Detroit.

There was the interception party that appeared to take over Detroit’s offense the second half of the season. There were key penalties -- both phantom and legitimate -- that extended opposing drives in third-down situations.

And there were coaching and management mistakes, be it the fake field goal in Pittsburgh that the Lions never really appeared to recover from, all the way to the poorly-used timeouts in Sunday's season finale against Minnesota.

So it wasn’t one thing, besides the obvious wins and losses, that went wrong for Schwartz in Detroit this season. It was a combination of everything.

On a day when change was everywhere around the Detroit Lions facility, where some players were cleaning out their lockers for possibly the last time, there was some retrospect of what went wrong.

What was that one thing they could change that might have saved Schwartz from being fired? The one thing that could have kept the Lions on the path to the playoffs that they seemed to inhabit for the first two months of the season?

“Getting more turnovers,” linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “If we had gotten more turnovers like we were earlier in the year, things could have changed, you know?”

That is one area where the Lions could have been better that went somewhat unnoticed. During Detroit’s 6-3 start, the Lions forced 14 turnovers. During their 1-6 finish, they forced eight, two of them in the meaningless finale against Minnesota.

But more players, even now, 24 hours removed from the end of their season, were still somewhat baffled as they packed up their belongings into garbage bags to head home or on vacation and into an unknown future with a new coaching staff looming.

“I really can’t. It’s 6-3 and in a good spot. And for some reason, for whatever it was, we couldn’t find ways to get wins down the stretch,” safety Glover Quin said. “We come, had a big win against Green Bay on Thanksgiving and we couldn’t find a way to get two more wins.”

They couldn’t. The Lions didn’t win in December, losing games by throwing the ball away on offense, getting gashed in the snow on defense and watching their playoff hopes expire on not one, but two game-winning field goals two weeks in a row.

And for the past two months or so, the Lions all talked about being one play short, one drive short. One everything short. It was a theme with this season -- with the later part of Schwartz’s tenure, really.

It appeared Monday, after Schwartz was fired, that general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were no longer happy with that mentality. No longer happy with close but nothing to show for it but a bunch of losses.

So one of the things they are going to look for in a new coach is a new belief, a new approach. A new type of character in their next coach.

“It is a mentality,” Mayhew said. “It has to be a belief that no matter what’s happening, you have an opportunity to win. You can’t put yourself in a situation where you get a fatalistic attitude or you get the belief that you can’t get over the hump, so to speak.

“I think that’s something that will need to be addressed in terms of the coach of our football team.”

That will be up to the next coach. Because this coach, no matter what he did, what he said or how much he pushed or didn’t push players during the week and in games, these Lions under Schwartz just couldn’t finish things off.

And even after Schwartz was gone and had addressed the team for the last time, they still took some of the blame for what went wrong.

“Jim wasn’t on the field. We were on the field after Thanksgiving, we were 7-5. We were on the field, not Jim,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It was the guys on the field that didn’t make enough plays.

“We didn’t make enough plays on the field and it cost him his job.”

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