With the franchise tag deadline looming, the Detroit Lions had to make an important decision about defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's future on Monday. Their options were as follows: put the franchise tag on him and keep him for 2015 at a cost of $26.9 million or decline to use the franchise tag and risk letting him hit the open market on March 10.
Ultimately, the Lions went with the second option and declined to franchise Suh. They actually announced the move on Monday morning instead of letting speculation persist throughout the day. What this means is that, barring a long-term deal with the Lions in the next eight days, Suh will become a free agent at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 10. Teams will be able to start negotiating with his agent on Saturday, March 7, meaning Suh should have a pretty good idea of his options by the time he officially hits the open market.
Although the Lions now have to face the possibility of losing Suh, not franchising him was the right move. Had the Lions actually used the franchise tag, they would have been damaging their short- and long-term future just for one additional year of Suh. In the short term, the cost of his franchise tag ($26.9 million) would have destroyed any flexibility the Lions had with the cap. Doing anything beyond franchising Suh and signing the draft class would have been difficult since the Lions would have had to go the restructuring-contracts route just to make room for Suh.
In the long term, the Lions would have done damage to their salary cap for years to come by franchising Suh. Yes, the Lions could have just restructured Calvin Johnson's contract to make enough room for Suh, but they would have had to make additional restructures for their draft class and to sign other free agents. Even then, making enough room for any notable moves would have been tough, and they would have been lessening their cap room in the future in the process.
The Lions have put themselves in a really bad position with Suh between restructuring his deal in the past and not getting a long-term agreement worked out over the last year or so. However, I'm glad they didn't dig a deeper hole by franchising Suh. Going all in for 2015 by franchising Suh would have been interesting in theory, but the reality is it would have been tough to contend for anything by basing the entire offseason around keeping Suh. Contending without Suh could be even tougher, I suppose, but at least the Lions could address other needs with the money left over if he walks.
The other thing to remember is that the Lions still have a little more than a week to get something long term worked out with Suh before he becomes a free agent. Even if nothing happens in the next eight days, Suh could test the market, evaluate his offers and ultimately re-sign with Detroit. It's hard to imagine him not at least seeing what else is out there at this point, but the Lions could very well be the team that presents him with the best offer when all is said and done. In that scenario, the Lions would get Suh back, be able to structure his deal in a more cap-friendly way and still be able to make other moves as they look to win big in 2015.