The Detroit Lions have tabled talks on a contract extension with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season, but general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand both insisted Monday that they still expect to re-sign Suh at some point.
Lewand announced the decision to halt talks with Suh before the Lions' first full practice of training camp.
The two sides have had off-and-on negotiations since Suh hired Jimmy Sexton as his agent in early March.
Sexton did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.
"In light of where we are, and most importantly, in light of getting ready for the season and keeping the focus where it should be, we've decided to table the discussions with Ndamukong on any further contract discussions until after the season," Lewand said. "I think it's the right thing for us to do. It's the right thing for the team, I think it's the right thing for everybody involved, and it allows us to keep the focus where it belongs."
Suh already is the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL, at $12.5 million, and his $22.4-million salary cap number is highest in the league.
He almost certainly will join an elite group of six defensive players who currently make more than $13 million per year on his next deal. Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams and New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis are the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL, at an average of $16 million per season.
Both Lewand and Mayhew declined to elaborate on what the sticking point is in contract talks to this point.
Mayhew said after last season that he expected a new deal with Suh to be in place around the start of free agency, and after Suh changed agents, he said he thought one would be reached by mid-July.
"This is one that's taking a long time to get done," Mayhew said. "We don't have a lot of detail to give you on that but we still remain optimistic."
Asked why he remains optimistic, Mayhew said: "I think he wants to be here."
"I know him pretty well," Mayhew said. "We've had a lot of conversations about it over the years. I feel comfortable with that."
Suh has insisted a handful of times since last year that he wants to sign a long-term contract with the Lions.
The second overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he has made three Pro Bowl appearances in four seasons in Detroit and is coming off of one of his best seasons as a pro.
"I feel good about (getting a deal done)," Mayhew said. "We have the formula for getting the guy signed. We have a player that wants to be here, we have a team that wants to (sign) the player. Those are the two most important things."
Mayhew admitted that he's not sure that the Lions can keep Suh from testing free agency next year -- "I can't say that we will. I just feel confident that he's going to be playing for us next year," he said -- and he wouldn't rule out using the franchise tag to keep Suh in Detroit.
To franchise Suh next year, it will cost the Lions almost $26.9 million -- a 20 percent raise from this year's cap number --plus another $9.7 million in cap charges due to previous contract restructurings.
"I think it's possible," Mayhew said of the franchise tag. "I wouldn't close the door on that. The cap will go up next year. Every year, we have people concerned about our ability to function with the salary cap and, thus far, we've been able to go out in free agency every year and add to our team, make our team better, been able to keep our own players, extend some of our own players and function well with the cap, and I think the cap's going to go up next year and probably the year after that, too."
Lewand declined to say whether Suh was asking for more money than quarterback Matthew Stafford made on the three-year extension he signed last summer -- $41.5 million guaranteed and $53 million in new money total -- but he said negotiations have been "productive" so far.
"We've got a good track record, and it's been our experience that when you have two willing parties that are focused on a common goal that you can get that done, regardless of timing," Lewand said. "I still feel that way very strongly and I'm very optimistic about the eventual outcome here. But I really feel like, with everything that we have going on that's so great, that we need to keep that focus on the field."
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