DETROIT — Ndamukong Suh can test the open market when free agency begins March 10 after the Detroit Lions did not use the franchise tag on the star defensive tackle.
The deadline for teams to designate franchise or transition players came and went Monday, and the Lions did not say anything publicly about their decision. There was only a report early in the day on the team’s website saying the franchise tag’s price of around $27 million for Suh proved too daunting.
Last month, General Manager Martin Mayhew said he was optimistic about getting a deal done with Suh, but the franchise tag may have been the team’s best source of leverage, and actually using it could have come at a prohibitive cost.
When the franchise tag is used, a team must tender the player a one-year contract for a figure based on the average of the five highest salaries at his position — or for 120 percent of the player’s prior year’s salary, whichever is higher. It’s the latter provision that pushed Suh’s price tag so high, making it difficult for the Lions to use the franchise tag.
“Obviously, you make that kind of financial commitment, it kind of determines what else you can do during the offseason,” Mayhew said last month. “So that’s something for the equation — the value of having him versus if we don’t get something done long term and losing him, what we’re able to get accomplished during the offseason.”
Suh has been a force in the middle of Detroit’s defensive line ever since the Lions drafted him with the second pick in 2010. He has 36 sacks in five seasons, including 8.5 in 2014, when the Lions made the playoffs as a wild card while boasting one of the league’s top defenses.
Suh has been hit with several fines in his career for his aggressive on-field actions, and he was nearly suspended for Detroit’s playoff game at Dallas last season — a one-game ban for stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was overturned on appeal. But that occasional drama has done little to detract from Suh’s overall value to the Lions, who now face the prospect of having to bid against other teams for the 28-year-old All-Pro’s services.
Detroit has become competitive again recently because of Suh, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson — all of whom came to the Lions via high draft picks. That trio helped Detroit reach the postseason twice in the past four years.