Around Detroit this week, the hottest topic of football conversation has been what to do with Detroit Lions' starting defensive tackle and free agent soon to be Ndamukong Suh. Considering Suh's age and ability level, it doesn't seem like much of a question to ponder at all.
Many reasons have been given for keeping Suh, but perhaps the best argument is for defensive consistency's sake. The Lions have struggled to find depth at defensive tackle, and finally, they have found a player that grades out to be amongst the more elite at the position in the game, regardless of what's happened between the lines.
For that reason alone, the team cannot afford to get rid of Suh. Losing him might cost the team more in the short and long term than finding a way to pay the man.
Beyond Suh, little else exists at defensive tackle on the roster. General manager Martin Mayhew has called out Nick Fairley, the supposed second best player who's been inconsistent his first three years in the league, so depending on him is a stretch. C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen are solid rotational players, but can't be counted on to play at an elite level for a whole season.
Replacing Suh with any one of these players or, worse yet, an unproven rookie would help the Lions' defense regress significantly. Heading into a season in which Jim Caldwell stated the time to win is now, Detroit can't afford to take a major risk on one of the lines and open another hole, regardless of what the potential return in draft picks might be. Suh has proven to be a better citizen on the field lately, so that justification for trading him cannot be used.
The only reason this particular discussion is happening is because Suh, unfortunately, was part of the final expensive rookie class in 2010. Now that the wage scale has since changed, rookies are paid differently, not getting big dollars right off the bat. Suh's solid play has justified a decent payday, but nothing like he was given coming into the league, of course. Like they did with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the team should restructure the contract now to try and make it more team and cap friendly for the near future.
If Suh truly wants to be a member of the Lions and compete for championships, he will realize the key to realizing that dream is financial flexibility, which will make the negotiating process a cinch. If not, he'll hold out for a bigger contract, larger demands and the Lions can decide whether or not to let him walk at that point in time, much like they did with Cliff Avril.
Next season, though, the Lions are depending on too much from their defense to allow such a key contributor to walk for the promise of the unknown. Keeping Suh in the fold is the best way for Detroit to stay elite. The team doesn't need to retool on the fly just yet.
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