The Detroit Lions may still be holding out hope that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will ultimately re-sign with them, but it's pretty clear he's set to join the Miami Dolphins. If the Lions had picked up Nick Fairley's fifth-year option and drafted Aaron Donald in the first round last year, this wouldn't exactly be the worst thing in the world, but neither of those things happened. As a result, the Lions' defensive tackle position is currently headlined by the likes of Caraun Reid, Xavier Proctor and Jermelle Cudjo. Needless to say, the Lions have a lot of work to do in the coming days and weeks to make up for the loss of Suh.
So, what exactly should the Lions do with Suh taking his talents to South Beach? Here are some different options to consider going forward:
Re-sign Nick Fairley
As Suh's departure became more and more likely this weekend, the Lions reportedly turned their focus to Nick Fairley. Fairley is also set to become a free agent on Tuesday, and he could very well be the top defensive tackle on the market with Suh already finding a new team. It remains to be seen what kind of deal Fairley will end up with given the concerns about his durability and work ethic, but getting him re-signed would be a big step in rebuilding the defensive tackle position. It would not be wise for the Lions to overspend on Fairley just because they lost Suh, but losing both players would be tough to swallow.
Target other free-agent defensive tackles
Even if the Lions are able to re-sign Suh, adding another starter or at least some extra depth at defensive tackle would be wise. That could mean simply re-signing C.J. Mosley, or it could mean targeting free agents like the Arizona Cardinals' Dan Williams and the Miami Dolphins' Jared Odrick. Both players seem like relatively attractive options given the circumstances:
DTs from class of 2010 (2014 grades/stats) pic.twitter.com/WjRm1fOWmS— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) March 8, 2015
The Free Press' Dave Birkett recently reported that the Lions are "expected to target" Williams, so it looks like they will make a run at signing him. (Click here for more defensive tackle options in free agency.)
Target a defensive tackle early in the 2015 NFL Draft
If the Lions aren't able to fill all of their needs at defensive tackle in free agency, chances are they will have to draft one in the first or second round. Various mock drafts have been penciling in defensive tackles for the Lions for months now, so you're probably already pretty well-versed in the different options out there: Malcom Brown (Texas), Eddie Goldman (Florida State), Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), Michael Bennett (Ohio State), Carl Davis (Iowa) and so on.
Use the money originally set aside for Suh to upgrade other positions
Chances are the Lions will be able to add at least one starter and one depth player at defensive tackle and still have some extra money left over from what was originally set aside to re-sign Suh. In other words, the Lions should have money to use to upgrade some other positions on the roster. Cornerback in particular jumps out as a position that could be addressed, and it also seems like the Lions could now take a look at signing a notable free-agent offensive lineman in order to bolster a position like tackle or guard.
As of right now, the Lions have around $17.4 million in cap space with George Johnson and Jeremy Ross' tenders already factored in, so they should be able to be pretty active in the next couple of weeks. Some of that space will eventually have to be set aside for the Lions' draft class, but they could always restructure some contracts to give themselves even more cap room.
It's definitely disappointing that the Lions weren't able to retain Suh, but the flip side is that free agency just got a lot more interesting for them. Instead of using a big chunk of their cap space to re-sign Suh, that money can now be used to target multiple players at multiple positions. It will be very interesting to see how the Lions approach free agency as they go forward with "Plan B."