The deadline for teams to use the franchise tag on looming free agents is 4 p.m. today. And, with less than 8 hours, the Lions must decide whether they want to use the tag on All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Lions’ GM Martin Mayhew admitted just over a week ago that the franchise “had no idea” whether they would use the tag on Suh.
Why is this such a big deal? Multiple reasons. If the Lions use the tag on Suh, they will pay him $26.9 million guaranteed for the 2015 season. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a lot of money. The Lions would be consuming nearly 50% of the projected salary cap with three players – Suh, Matthew Stafford, and Calvin Johnson. If you’re questioning whether that’s a fiscally responsible move, then you’re not alone.
But the consequences of not using the tag on Suh could be just as detrimental to the bottom line of the franchise. Suh is a one of a kind player. The instances of a player of his caliber testing the market are few. Suh is in his prime and will have plenty of teams clamoring for his services. He’ll likely receive a contract bigger than the 6-year, $100 million deal signed by J.J. Watt a few months ago. Would Detroit really let a potential Hall of Fame player just walk out the door?
They may have no other choice. No other franchise is feeling the impact of the lack of a rookie salary cap like the Lions are at the moment. They were saddled with two high draft picks before the imposition of the rookie salary cap — which they used on Stafford and Suh. Fortunately, or unfortunately, both players have played well enough to warrant lucrative second contracts. But the fact that each of these players were among the highest paid at their respective positions before playing a down in the NFL has created inflated expectations about their potential worth. It’s a dilemma that is unique to Mayhew and the rest of the Lions front office.
What will the Lions do? When it comes down to it, I don’t believe the Lions can let Suh go. They’ll apply the tag, take the salary cap hit for 2015 and buy some time to negotiate a long-term deal. If Suh walks, it could end up being another chapter of tough luck for a franchise that has plenty of them.