NFC North: Ndamukong Suh

The Detroit Lions' offseason is already a week old and the team made one somewhat surprising move in releasing cornerback Chris Houston a year after signing him to a $25 million contract.

What else is there to potentially look for before training camp starts in late July? A few things pop up as possibilities between now and then.

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The Suh situation: Whenever team president Tom Lewand has discussed Ndamukong Suh's contract situation, he has pointed to when the Lions signed Matthew Stafford to an extension a year ago. It took until the summer. Well, summer has begun so it would seem to fit when Detroit is hoping to extend its defensive star. If this doesn't happen over the next month or so, it is legitimately time for the Lions to wonder if an extension will happen at all.

A veteran signing: Yes, cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the market, as are a multitude of veteran wide receivers. These seem to be the two areas of need for the Lions at this point and general manager Martin Mayhew has shown in the past he is comfortable making veteran moves to improve his roster whenever necessary. Look at the Rashean Mathis signing from last year. So don't be surprised if there is a little bit of a roster shift between now and training camp. Another player to watch here could be defensive tackle Derek Landri, whom the team brought in earlier this spring.

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Improvement of Larry Warford: Warford told me he is heading to work with his offensive line guru, LeCharles Bentley, for a portion of June and July. It was during this same time frame last year when Warford made the jump into being the player who started every game and played every snap for Detroit in his rookie season. In talking with Warford this spring, he's still not completely happy with his game, so he's headed to Bentley for a tune-up and some tweaks for his second season.

Accountability and the unexpected: Without fail, during every offseason around the NFL, something happens. Before the players left, new head coach Jim Caldwell preached accountability both on the field and off of it. This will be their longest time away from the team until next offseason, so whether his message stuck will be displayed here.

Cool traveling on Twitter and Instagram: This is the time of year where players often take some of their more exotic vacations. Reggie Bush -- it's for a sponsorship thing, it seems -- has been in Australia most of this week. DeAndre Levy is likely headed somewhere interesting as well and he already spent part of that offseason out of the country. Then there's Suh, who will be on television again in an episode of "American Muscle" on July 16 on the Discovery Channel. (It was already filmed with former Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis at Barwis' training facility in suburban Detroit.)
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Ndamukong Suh started his spring workouts with the Detroit Lions without a new contract and he’ll end them the same way – in the final year of his rookie deal.

Suh
The Lions’ defensive tackle, who is making $22.4 million against the salary cap for 2014, remains unsigned past the end of this season and there has been little indication that a deal is imminent.

Both he and Detroit’s management have said over the past few months they would like to broker a deal to keep Suh with the Lions for a while, but it has yet to materialize. Suh declined to talk with reporters throughout the three-day mandatory minicamp.

When Detroit coach Jim Caldwell was asked about ending spring workouts without a new deal for Suh – or having rookie tight end Eric Ebron under contract – he didn’t seem too bothered by it.

“I think the way in which this game is, every year is going to be a little bit different,” Caldwell said. “You’re not the first guy that’s gone through a contract negotiation and it won’t be the last. I think those things, Martin [Mayhew] and Tom [Lewand] and those guys and ownership will do a tremendous job.

“What I have to do is stay focused on what’s happening out there on the field and get our guys ready to play.”

Ebron’s contract is not a huge deal right now. There have been no indications he is trying to hold out, but rather the team doesn’t have the salary-cap space available right now to get a contract worked out. In order to do so, the team will either have to ink Suh to an extension to knock down his salary-cap number or file some contract restructures on players with long-term, big-money deals like receiver Calvin Johnson.

Until that happens, Detroit can’t sign Ebron. And as for Suh, the Lions are now in a wait-and-negotiate mode until there is some movement on whether or not he ends up staying in Detroit.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.
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The Detroit Lions opened their organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday at their practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan.

The media will watch Wednesday’s session, and here are five things to pay attention to as this part of the offseason begins.

1. What's going on with Suh?

Ndamukong Suh has been the main topic of the entire offseason, from his contract situation to missing the beginning of offseason workouts. But Suh is back in town, and how he ends up interacting with everyone will be something to watch.

Dominic Raiola said Monday night he was looking forward to seeing him -- and there’s a good chance the young defensive players are feeling the same way. There have been some questions about Suh getting up to speed with the defense, but he has never shown up out of shape and there is no reason to think Suh will not be in shape this time around, in what could end up being a contract year for him. Now his storyline can shift back to whether he signs an extension with the Lions.

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2. What does Nick Fairley look like?

Saw Fairley briefly the first day of offseason workouts in April. He didn’t talk to the media then and he was wearing a baggy shirt, so it was difficult to tell what he looked like. He’s always been able to play with a lot of weight, though, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

What type of shape he’s in -- and how motivated he is after the Lions chose not to pick up his fifth-year option earlier this year -- will be the major questions surrounding him. Fairley is now playing for his second NFL contract, either in Detroit or elsewhere, and money can be a motivating factor for a lot of players.

Stafford
Stafford
3. What will the offense look like?

Since Detroit hired Joe Lombardi as the team’s offensive coordinator, much has been made about the Lions looking like a northern version of the high-powered New Orleans Saints. It is part of the reason the team drafted North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round and brought in Golden Tate in free agency. The Lions should have every offensive piece they will need from a skill position standpoint. How quickly Matthew Stafford and his group pick up the offense will be interesting. While there won’t be a ton of clues Wednesday, by the end of the mandatory minicamp in June, there should be a clue as to what Detroit could look like in the fall.

4. What's going on at the corners?

Chris Houston won’t be out there and may not be ready by training camp. Martin Mayhew has indicated this is a big season for the young, developing corners the team does have -- Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, Bill Bentley and Darius Slay, the last of who is thought to be a potential starter this fall. If that quartet can make the necessary improvements, perhaps cornerback won’t be as big an issue as it has been the past few years. Also curious to see where the team uses Rashean Mathis. The veteran, if he can play as he did a season ago, could provide relief either in the slot or on the outside.

5. How does the team respond to coach Jim Caldwell?

So far, the players have said all the right things and acted in all the right ways. However, it’ll be interesting to see the pace of his practices and the way he interacts with the players during practice. He was brought in to be a calming, more disciplined influence on a team that went through a lot of penalty issues in prior seasons. Expect the team to believe in Caldwell heading into this season -- he proved in his opening news conference he can be fiery in certain situations -- and to be happy to have another fresh-type start.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions' front office seems to desperately want to keep Ndamukong Suh in town.

They've said as much since the start of the offseason and indicated he wants to stay, too, even if many of his actions since the team hired Jim Caldwell have indicated otherwise. Suh, after all, is not at voluntary workouts -- something explained away by general manager Martin Mayhew and some teammates as what Suh typically does.

And it is Suh who switched agents and didn't hire another one until right before the start of free agency, meaning the team couldn't negotiate to lower his $22.4 million salary-cap number entering the final year of his contract.

This was all a part of the lead-in to Monday afternoon, when Mayhew addressed rumors about Suh without even being asked a question about the defensive tackle. At his pre-draft news conference, Mayhew said the Lions have no interest in trading Suh, have not engaged in discussions about trading him and that Suh is a part of their plans.

Of course he is a part of their plans. This is a team that wants to win now -- has a mandate to win now. And unless the Lions get a major offer in the next few days, Suh is going to remain in those plans.

Mayhew couldn't really say anything else. If he says the team is trying to trade Suh, he loses leverage with potential partners and also could change the tenor of negotiations with Suh and his agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Mayhew has to say the team isn't interested in trading Suh. But Mayhew, like any general manager, certainly would listen if a team came to him with an offer. He just might not be the one out there pursuing a move.

But don't expect a trade to happen. The Lions have too much invested in their marquee defensive player to not make a concerted run at keeping him in Detroit for the next few years. The bigger question is how much Suh wants to remain a Lion.
The NFL draft is less than a week away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we'll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today continues with the defensive line.

Previous previews

Players Lost: Willie Young, DE (signed with Chicago); Israel Idonije, DE (signed with Chicago)

[+] EnlargeDonald
AP Photo/Don WrightTaking Aaron Donald at No. 10 would provide the Lions with insurance in case Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley is not back in 2015.
Players Signed: George Johnson, DE; Kourtnei Brown, DE; Darryl Tapp, DE/OLB; Vaughn Martin, DT; Corvey Irvin, DT.

Players on the roster: Defensive ends: Ezekiel Ansah; Jason Jones; Devin Taylor; Tapp; Brown; Johnson. Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh; Nick Fairley; C.J. Mosley; Andre Fluellen; Martin; Irvin; Jimmy Saddler-McQueen; Xavier Proctor.

Draft priority: Medium

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina; Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg; Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: It is an interesting situation when it comes to the Detroit defensive line, in part because the player the Lions should take in the first round could end up being available at the slot. It might not, though, be the player the Lions will take.

If Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle from Pittsburgh, is sitting at No. 10 and no unexpected players like Mike Evans are still available, the Lions should take him even though they have Suh and Fairley. The reasoning behind it is simple.

By taking Donald, the Lions would provide more depth up front in the present and also provide themselves with a potential replacement for either Fairley or Suh should either one not return to Detroit after the season. Worst case for Detroit, if both Suh and Fairley somehow returned, the Lions could have even more flexibility on the defensive line and truly have the best defensive front four in the NFL.

Donald may be the best player available at that point as well.

Even if the Lions pass on Donald, they will almost assuredly take a defensive tackle at some point this week because the team's top six defensive tackles -- and every non-practice squad defensive tackle -- will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Detroit needs to add a rush end, too, and Anthony Barr could be an option there in the first round. Larry Webster could be a late round pick to watch. He's a project, but he could fit in well with what the Lions have already in Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor at the position.

Of all reasonable options, I'd take: As mentioned above, if Donald is available, that is who I would take in Round 1. I don't think the Lions would do this -- my bet would be they bolster the secondary -- but Donald is a difference-maker.

Should that happen, the Lions could use a fourth-round pick on Webster as well and really solidify the defensive front the team tried to build the entire defense around.

Possible targets: Donald, Webster, Barr, Dee Ford, DE, Auburn; Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida; Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas; Dominique Easley, DT, Florida; Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State; Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina; Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU.
After weeks and weeks and weeks and months of speculation and determination and breaking down what could and should and might happen, the NFL draft will actually occur starting Thursday.

So this, finally, will be the last mailbag with 2014 pre-draft questions -- although I'm sure there will be a ton of them later on once Detroit has actually made its picks.

So let's get on to it, and remember that the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you do or do not ask. Email michael.rothstein@espn.com or Tweet with the hashtag #LionsMailbag to get those questions in.

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Craig from Murietta, Calif. asks via email: If the lions draft a safety early in the draft, would there be any chance Glover Quin would move back to corner? I know corner was his original posistion out of college, but I'm not sure how well he played there.


  • He's staying at safety, Craig, unless a lot of injuries were to occur. Quin played well back there for Detroit and is the team's best defensive back of the present and the immediate future. The team won't mess around with moving him unless they absolutely had to. There would be a better chance that you'd see Don Carey, currently the third safety and potential nickel along with Bill Bentley, head back to corner and have either James Ihedigbo or the drafted safety as the No. 3 safety if someone went down. Quin's not headed anywhere.



    Kyle asks via email: Can you shed some light on why the Lions pick 10th in the first round but 13th in the second round? I hope they don't miss out on someone they really like because of this.


  • Kyle, because the Lions finished with the same record as other teams, their pick moves around by round. They nabbed the No. 10 pick because their strength of schedule was the worst among 7-9 teams. Due to that, the Lions would then get the worst pick of 7-9 teams in the second round, so on and so forth along the way. No conspiracy theory here, that's just how it works.
  • Whether it's about Jay Cutler or the expected fall of some of the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft, former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo continues to express strong opinions regarding several subjects around the league; the latest being Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

    Suh
    On April 22, Angelo made his thoughts known -- pretty scathingly -- on Twitter about Suh, who hasn't attended the start of the club's voluntary offseason workouts.

    Angelo, who served as general manager of the Bears from 2001-11, wrote: "As a GM, what Ndamukong Suh is choosing to do by not showing for the team's offseason program [because] he wants a new contract is one of the worst things a player can do. I had a rule with players and their agents: Unless a player was at the facility and working -- just like everyone else -- we would not engage or continue to negotiate a deal. It was that simple."

    What's interesting is that as a GM, Angelo came close in 2011 to facing a similar situation with running back Matt Forte, as negotiations throughout that season on a long-term contract proved fruitless. The Bears fired Angelo in January 2012, and current general manager Phil Emery took over the negotiations.

    That offseason, Forte skipped the offseason program, but the sides continued to negotiate until he agreed to a long-term deal just hours before the July 16 deadline.

    Apparently, Angelo prefers a different approach, and made that clear in writing about Suh.

    "Everyone has to honor their contract," Angelo wrote. "We collectively negotiated it and all agreed to its terms and conditions. No one gets to change the rules once that's done. That's why they use the term ‘good faith.' Eventually, Suh will get paid and paid very well."

    Perhaps that's true. But right now, Angelo believes Suh is taking a selfish approach as the Lions begin work under new coach Jim Caldwell, who needs to set the tone as the team's new leader. In deriding Suh, Angelo seemed to take a shot at Detroit's defense, too.

    "When players get caught up into themselves, they forget the big picture: the team and winning," Angelo wrote. "The Lions haven't done enough on defense for any player like Suh to feel he deserves to be treated special. The question is, for what? Grant you, he is a top player at his position, but the Lions defense is no more feared than most defenses around the league. Suh doesn't take over a game like a Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White or Warren Sapp. Suh has that mistaken identity that he is more important than he really is. He will get paid like an elite player, but the Lions defense is far from elite. Yes, you pay players based on performance, but somewhere in the equation the team's performance -- and in Suh's case, the defense -- fits in there somewhere. Winning makes it a lot easier to justify paying players handsomely."

    Then, Angelo finishes his Twitter rant about Suh with a kicker.

    "Suh is in that long line of people who love the book 'What About ME'!!!"

    Jerry Angelo, please tell us again: How do you really feel?
    The grade came back a season ago and all at once it told Aaron Donald everything he kind of already knew. He was contemplating leaving Pittsburgh, his college and childhood home, before his final season of college for the NFL.

    He thought he might be ready. The pros told him not quite. If he had left early, he would be a third-day pick, somewhere between the fourth and seventh rounds. He was a good player and an undersized player, not a great player. Being competent in college is one thing. There are a lot of nice college players.

    [+] EnlargeAaron Donald
    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAaron Donald's attention to detail helped him become one of college football's top defenders in 2013.
    Being a dominant one is different. Being a pro, something else entirely.

    “I thought I was a better player but making the choice, I felt I wasn’t 100 percent ready for the next level. I think I had not dominated enough on the college level,” Donald told ESPN.com last week. “Even though I had success my sophomore year and my junior year I felt like I didn’t have that year where I felt comfortable that I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in college, and now I’m ready to move on.

    “My senior year I felt I put a lot more time into the offseason to make a lot more happen. Going out my senior year, I felt like I did everything I wanted to do and more. I felt like I dominated and I feel comfortable going to the next level and that I’m ready.”

    The grade and the subsequent decision turned Donald from that decent late-round player into the game-changing defensive lineman in college football. The one whose statistics compared favorably to Ndamukong Suh’s last year at Nebraska and who transformed from a final-day prospect into a first-day one.

    He swept essentially every major defensive award he was up for: The Nagurski, Bednarik, Outland and Lombardi Awards. He drew comparisons, even at 6-foot, 285 pounds, to both Suh and Geno Atkins, two of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.

    Donald, despite his size, became a marketable and coveted prospect for NFL franchises – even one the Lions could consider at No. 10 since their top six defensive tackles are all due to be unrestricted free agents after the 2014 season. Declining to pick up Nick Fairley’s fifth-year contract option opened up Detroit to the possibility of taking their third defensive tackle in the first round since 2010.

    Doing so could turn defensive tackle into the same position for general manager Martin Mayhew that wide receiver was for his predecessor, Matt Millen, and could link the Lions with drafting tackles in the first round in the 2010s like wide receivers were for Detroit in the 2000s. Except the Lions need to upgrade a defense built on a pressure-and-chaos causing line.

    In one season, Donald solidified himself as a player who could improve the Lions' defense – and most defenses in the NFL.

    Some of the shift had to do with scheme and familiarity. He spent his junior season adjusting to being a 4-3 defensive tackle after spending his first two seasons in a 3-4 as a nose tackle and defensive end. Returning for his final season allowed him to cause havoc across every offensive line he faced, with slide protections and double- and triple-teams coming his way every play.

    He won all those awards anyway.

    “He understands the game so well he could put himself in position,” Pittsburgh’s defensive line coach, Inoke Breckterfield, said. “He knows what play is coming off of film study. He can narrow it down to two or three plays and off the first step, he knows what play he’s getting.

    “I think film study has really helped his game grow in terms of what techniques would be needed here or what are his tendencies on that.”

    Donald’s studying changed. He knew to get from late-round prospect to the best defensive player in college football, he had to know everything about himself and his opponent.

    So every Saturday after he finished being beaten up and chipped and doubled on the Panthers’ defense, he lugged himself up to the team’s defensive line room. He popped in a DVD of the game he just played in and watched every play at least twice and sometimes four or five times.

    Coaches never said anything to him about it – they weren’t going to tell him no – but they would smile at him when they saw him either leaving the facility late at night or the next morning. They understood that he, too, understood.

    “I don’t care if it was 2 o’clock in the morning after a night game,” Donald said. “I had to break down the film by myself before I watched it with the team. I wanted to see everything I did wrong and did right or I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

    “After games, you think about the play you missed. I had to see it.”

    What he saw was an ever-growing collection of pass-rush and run-stopping moves he added throughout the course of his career. He saw how opponents would try to stifle him and then he would start watching his next opponent to both learn their plays and to get a feel for what they might do to him.

    By Saturday, he usually knew almost every play an opponent was going to try and run at him, so he could glance at an opposing offensive line or backfield and narrow things down before the ball was snapped.

    It confirmed everything Breckterfield initially saw when he started coaching Donald.

    “I would tell anyone who wanted to listen there was something special about that kid,” Breckterfield said. “I said, but he’s 6-foot tall, 6-1, that’s what he is, but I knew he was a special one. I knew he was a special player.”

    On the college level, he was. He’ll need to learn even more to reach that on the professional level. But what he did last season will at least give him a chance.

    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 -- 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."
    ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joique Bell had his news conference Wednesday to chat about his new contract that could keep him with the Detroit Lions for the next three seasons, but he also touched on some other topics unrelated to his new deal.
    • Bell
      Bell confirmed that he ran into wide receiver Golden Tate -- a free agent the Detroit Lions are pursuing -- in the hallway of the team's offices Wednesday afternoon. Tate was headed into the room that Bell just walked out of after signing his contract, but Bell didn't know if that meant anything.
    • Bell said he has spoken with Ndamukong Suh -- Suh was the third person to call him after news of his new contract broke -- about Suh's contract negotiations. Or, rather, Suh's lack of negotiations at present.

      "He said they really haven’t been negotiating right now," Bell said. "He said his focus is coming in next season, and it’s easy for us just to be the players. That’s why we hire our agents, to worry about that type of stuff."

      Bell said that's about all he knew about Suh's status. Suh is entering the final year of his contact with a $22.4 million cap number.
    • Bell never worried at all about a long-term contract not getting done with Detroit. That's not surprising since it appeared all parties wanted to do the deal.
    • Bell called offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who he had as a coach in New Orleans, "brilliant." Bell really seemed high on him and also described Lombardi and Jim Caldwell the same way, as guys who you didn't want to disappoint and coaches who rarely yelled.
    • Bell's son, Jordan, attended his father's news conference because it was a snow day at school in the Detroit area.
    • Bell opened his news conference by offering condolences to the Ford family, who are mourning the death of owner William Clay Ford Sr., who died Sunday at age 88 after battling pneumonia.

    Ndamukong Suh's contract negotiations just became a whole lot more complicated for the Detroit Lions.

    In hiring Jimmy Sexton, perhaps the best agent in the business and one who routinely nabs major deals for the head coaches he represents, the defensive tackle has shown he is not messing around in his plans for a new deal and wants to get every dollar possible.

    Suh
    That is exactly what he should be doing.

    There was some surprise and intrigue throughout his search for a new agent after he fired Relativity Sports in January, including some speculation that he would go with an inexperienced agent (Kim Miale from Roc Nation Sports) or possibly even represent himself.

    Such a move would have been risky and could have meant leaving massive amounts of money on the table. Instead, he has made a decision to go with one of the safest and most lucrative options out there: Sexton.

    Sexton represents former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, Alabama's Nick Saban and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. In other words, the man knows how to deal and what to say to get the absolute best for his client almost every single time.

    Sexton's roster also includes Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and UCLA's Jim Mora.

    "He has a unique way of negotiating things for you without ever causing any roadkill," Saban told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated for a profile of Sexton in January. "Any time one of these things happens, where I'm staying here, everyone over there is upset because of what happened. That's an art in and of itself."

    Make sure to read that profile of Sexton, because it'll give a good idea of what Detroit is about to encounter again.

    For Suh, this will likely mean his deal is going to be massive and should at least rival the $55 million extension Cincinnati gave Geno Atkins in September. If the Lions were smart, they would try to get the deal done as soon as possible. If Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy gets an extension done before Suh and it is lucrative, it could drive the defensive tackle's asking amount even higher.

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