Football / Sports

Lions' Ndamukong Suh 'highly unlikely' to sign before camp

Ndamukong Suh's contract has hung over the Detroit Lions' collective head all offseason, and with the first practice of training camp just four days away, it appears that the star defensive tackle's future will remain unresolved for at least a few more weeks.

Suh and the Lions continue to have dialogue about a new deal, but one person familiar with that talks said it's "highly unlikely" that anything gets done before practice begins Monday.

Both parties still hope to finalize a long-term contract extension before the start of the season, though failing that, the Lions eventually will reach a point where they'll table negotiations until 2015.

Suh, who's entering the final year of the rookie contract he signed as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, already is the highest-paid defensive tackle in the game and will remain one of the richest defensive players in all of football on his next deal.

He's scheduled to make $12.5 million this fall, with a $22.4-million salary cap number -- the biggest in the NFL -- and the Lions seem unlikely to use the franchise tag to keep Suh from reaching free agency, given it would cost nearly $26.9 million.

Just six current defensive players make more than $13 million per season.

Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams and New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis both average $16 million a year, and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman ($14 million) signed a four-year, $56-million extension this spring.

Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden ($13.5 million), Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews ($13.2 million) and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy ($13.116 million on a franchise tag) also make more than $13 million per season.

Suh is coming off his third Pro Bowl appearance in four seasons and had one of his best years last fall despite recording just 5 1/2 sacks, the second-lowest total of his career.

Despite Suh's cumbersome cap figure -- or maybe because of it -- the Lions have managed their cap more judiciously this year. They only made one major signing in free agency, wide receiver Golden Tate, and went the entire offseason without doing a simple contract restructure for the first time since at least 2010.

Suh restructured his contract to convert a large portion of his base salary into a signing bonus at the Lions' request each of the last two years. Such a maneuver frees up immediate cap space, but pushes cap commitments into future seasons in the form of bonus prorations.

Those prorations are why Suh has such a big cap number this year, and why he'll count at least $9.7 million against the cap next season regardless of whether he re-signs with the Lions.

The Lions, who entered today with $1.97 million in cap room, less than all but just three teams, signed stars Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford to long-term extensions each of the last two off-seasons.

Stafford got $41.5 million guaranteed on a three-year extension last July, while Johnson got $53.25 million guaranteed on a seven-year extension in the spring of 2012.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell insisted at the end of minicamp last month that Suh's contract won't be a distraction this year.

Without a new deal, it just might be.

"They're not the first guy that's gone through a contract negotiation and he won't be the last," Caldwell said. "So I think those things Martin (Mayhew) and Tom (Lewand) and those guys and ownership will do a tremendous job. What I have to do is stay focused on what's happening out there on the field and get our guys ready to play."

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