New Deal for Ndamukong Suh Doesn’t Have to Be Detroit Lions’ First Priority


Sep 22, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) celebrates with free safety Louis Delmas (26) and wide receiver Nate Burleson (13) after their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. The Lions won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have some salary cap work to do before free agency begins on March 11. The big number hanging over their head is Ndamukong Suh‘s $22.4 million cap hit. Reducing that number through a contract extension will be a high priority for the Lions front office, but should it be their top priority?

I may be going against popular opinion but I don’t think so.

The way the extension is structured will determine how much 2014 salary cap relief it provides. More relief now means more money is once again kicked down the road to be accounted for later. That is a continuation of a poor strategy that got the Lions into this mess in the first place.

Trading lower cap numbers now for higher cap numbers in future years is a cycle that needs to be broken. The best way to do that now is to extend Suh and keep his 2014 cap number as high as the Lions can tolerate.

Instead, the Lions can prioritize some low-hanging fruit to free up enough money to get under the salary cap then work towards an extension with Suh that provides just the additional cap relief they need for free agency and signing their draft picks.

With about $133 million in current cap commitments and a projected salary cap of about $126 million, the Lions need to free up at least $7 million, plus extra space to do their offseason business. It turns out they can find a big chunk of it already on their roster.

Nate Burleson – There is no way the Lions will carry Burleson with his $7.5 million cap number. They can clear $5.5 million by cutting Burleson but it is more likely the two sides agree to a base salary reduction like they did last season. Burleson took a reduction in base salary down to $2 million for the 2013 season and doing the same for 2014 would lead to salary cap savings of $3.5 million. Reduction to the veteran minimum pushes the savings to over $4.5 million.

Louis Delmas – Finally played a full 16-game schedule last year but doing so required a lot of missed practice time. On top of that, the Lions can find better ways to spend the $5.5 million that would be freed by releasing Delmas.

Leroy Harris – He never played a snap for the Lions and the roster spot he occupied last year is better used on a younger, cheaper player like Rodney Austin. Releasing Harris would create $1.95 million in cap room.

The decisions get more difficult after Burleson, Delmas and Harris, but taking action on just these three players frees up $10.95 million or more depending on how far Burleson’s base salary is reduced. Add in about $1.4 million in cap carry over from 2013 and the Lions are about $5.4 million under the projected salary cap before Suh’s situation is addressed.

That isn’t enough cap space to do all the Lions want to do this offseason but there are still more cuts that could be considered and goes to show that extending Suh doesn’t have to be the immediate first priority.