NFL free agency is still more than two months away, but rumors are already starting to swirl about potential landing spots for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His contract for the 2015 season officially voids five days after the Super Bowl, and he is set to become a free agent on March 10.
Suh's availability on the open market assumes two things. For starters, it assumes that a long-term deal with the Detroit Lions isn't worked out before free agency begins. An extension before March 10 seems unlikely considering we've gone this far without a deal. Granted, there were no negotiations during the season, but unless the Lions hand Suh a blank check, why not test the market when you've come this far?
The other thing that could prevent Suh from becoming a true free agent is if the Lions decide to franchise him. That especially seems unlikely considering it would cost the Lions $26.9 million. The Lions would have to make some moves just to fit that number under the cap, and they would have zero flexibility to make other moves this offseason. Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reports that the Lions are "keeping the option on the table," but I just can't see that happening.
What I can see happening is a double-digit number of teams expressing interest in signing Suh if he becomes a free agent, and that's also something that Robinson envisions. He also reported that "there could be as many as 10 teams interested in making titanic pitches to Suh." Which teams might be on that list? Robinson highlighted the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders as three teams "in play," and he also mentioned the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons. Whether or not the Jets and Falcons will continue to be interested after hiring new coaches remains to be seen, but the point is that a lot of teams are going to be interested in Suh.
Of course, having interest in Suh and being willing to offer him the kind of money he's after are two very different things. That's why it will be so interesting to see what happens if he does in fact hit the open market. It's entirely possible that no team will come close to what agent Jimmy Sexton is looking for, and perhaps that could leave the Lions as the last team standing when all is said and done. Then again, the flip side is that if even one team values Suh enough to make him a bank-breaking offer, the Lions' chances of re-signing him could quickly go out the window.
I guess at the end of the day for Suh, it's ultimately going to come down to what he's after. If it's mainly a money issue, then one of those teams with the most cap space will have a good shot at signing him if they're simply willing to pony up the dough. If it's more about being on a winning team, then the Lions obviously have a better shot than the likes of the Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Jets and Falcons. And if it's just a comfort thing, well, only Suh knows the ideal landing spot for that category. Perhaps he is craving a fresh start, or perhaps he doesn't want to leave his current teammates on the Lions.
In all likelihood, Suh's decision will be based on a combination of those factors. Money is almost certainly going to play a big role given that he's one of the top defensive players in the NFL, but the idea of playing for a winning team in an environment he's comfortable with can't be discounted. And that's why I don't think we should discount the Lions' chances here. Clearly he has created a bond with his teammates on the defensive line, and the Lions are coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff appearance. As long as they're willing to bring a competitive offer to the table, they should have a shot at re-signing Suh.