By Ashley Dunkak
PHOENIX - The Detroit Lions twice restructured the rookie contract of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, bouncing the cost of using the franchise tag on Suh to $26.9 million. Team president Tom Lewand defended the team's moves Tuesday, when he sat down with Detroit reporters at the owners meetings and discussed how Suh slipped away in free agency.
If Lewand or general manager Martin Mayhew have any regrets about how they went about trying to keep Suh, they have not admitted them.
While Mayhew said Monday that in hindsight there are "about 1,000 things" he would do differently, Lewand said - not altogether jokingly - "I don't have a thousand."
Both men insist the organization made the right decisions with the information they had at the time.
"I am very comfortable with how we handled the negotiating process," Lewand said. "I've long said that when you have a team that wants to keep a player, a player who wants to stay, that the vast majority of times that you can work that out. Clearly Ndamukong made a decision to take the deal in Miami; that was his prerogative. He evaluated his options and chose that as a better option for himself, but it takes two sides to get a deal done, and in this case, we didn't have the meeting of the minds, and it didn't happen."
Lewand said the Lions considered the implications of restructuring Suh's deal when they made those moves, and he suggested the team still might have passed on the chance to franchise Suh even if his number had been lower.
"We look at the planning process. We look at what the benefits and the drawbacks of the franchise tag would be," Lewand said. "I don't know that those dynamics are different whether you are dealing with $19 million or $26 million in terms.
"We don't engage in a process of continuing to look backwards when it pays to look forward," Lewand added, pushing the Suh discussion toward its conclusion. "We're not going to drive the car looking out the back window."
Lewand eventually cut off the conversation about Suh, after about 10 minutes of questions on why the team failed to get an extension done. Lewand maintained that the team was ready to take on the monstrous contract they offered Suh even though they already had huge money committed to quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. However, Lewand said the team was only willing to go so far.
"There's always limitations," Lewand said. "We were comfortable making him a proposal that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league together with a well-compensated quarterback and a well-compensated Hall of Fame receiver. We were prepared to move forward on that basis, and I think we acquitted ourselves very well in the process of making him an offer that was extremely substantial and that would have allowed him to continue to be part of the team, and he, again, chose another option that he had in front of him."
Lewand disputed a question asking why the Lions waited until late in the process to make their final offer - $102 million over six years with $58 million guaranteed - to Suh. Lewand would not clarify, however, when the team made the offer.
"There are a lot of things that occurred during the process, a lot of information that came my way or our way, and a lot of information that didn't come our way, that is very germane to what happened in the transaction, and it's not fair to the process, it's not fair to Ndamukong or his representatives to begin to talk about those specifics," Lewand said.
Publicly, the Lions had communicated optimism over the course of their quest to re-sign Suh. If it surprised Lewand that Suh turned Detroit down, he would not admit it. Lewand was walking out of church on the Sunday of the three-day negotiating period before free agency when Suh's agent Jimmy Sexton called and told him that Suh was going to Miami.
"Different people make decisions for different reasons, and you'd really have to ask him more about why he made that decision, but we've seen numerous instances of guys who stay with their clubs," Lewand said. "Matter of fact, Suh was represented by somebody who was representing a player who, the very time we were having those discussions, made a decision to forego free agency and probably a higher contract - not probably; in all certainty a higher contract out on the free agent market - in order to stay with his current team. That happens all the time.
"Ndamukong had different factors in his decision, and that's his right, and I support him in his ability to make that decision," Lewand added. "We don't look at that with anything but objective viewpoint, and we don't look at it as anything but factual, and we wish him the best in Miami."
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