Ndamukong Suh’s impending free agency surrounded by questions

·NFL columnist

Charles Woodson in 2006. Deion Sanders in 1994 (and 1995). Reggie White in 1993. This is the territory that awaits the Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh – who is poised to become one of the most talented defensive free-agent signings in league history. And in the midst of his prime, no less.

Suitors? They will be plentiful, according to three league sources familiar with teams seeking defensive line tuneups this offseason.

The sources told Yahoo Sports there could be as many as 10 teams interested in making titanic pitches to Suh. That number includes Suh’s current team, the Lions, which still has the option of restructuring some contracts and retaining the four-time All-Pro via the franchise tag. At a price of $26.7 million for 2015, the weight of that one-year contract would be potentially crippling to the franchise, but the three sources said Detroit is keeping the option on the table. Head coach Jim Caldwell nearly admitted as much Monday, emphasizing that retaining Suh was a top priority for the franchise.


Among those in play, the sources said, if Suh hits the open market? The Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders – the three teams expected to have the most cash to spend in free agency. The New York Jets were also expected to show interest, although talent procurement plans now appear to be in limbo with the general manager and head coach spots both open. The Falcons were also named as a team that is expected to be interested, although that could also be in flux with the lack of a head coach and some lingering questions about whether owner Arthur Blank would insist to any hire that general manager Thomas Dimitroff stay in place.

Asked to outline the primary issues governing who will land Suh, the sources overlapped on three main factors:

1. Money

“There will be some level of interest from a bunch of guys until a [dollar] figure is exchanged [with Jimmy Sexton, Suh’s agent],” one source said. “The ballpark [of the deal] is obvious, but once it’s real, the [suitors] will get a lot smaller. It will go from five to maybe two. Who knows? Maybe just one. It all depends on the numbers.”

It’s believed Sexton will be seeking a deal to make Suh the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL by exceeding the six-year, $100-million deal signed by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. It’s also believed Sexton will seek a higher guaranteed amount than Watt received ($51.8 million). Those are staggering numbers for a defensive tackle, but Suh’s age (28) and ability to consistently create inside-the-line pocket pressure will likely make Sexton’s job easy when it comes to the financial push.

2. Behavior discussion

Owners always sign off on mega-deals, but Suh’s will be a little different than most. It will necessitate a deeper conversation than usual, including the very top of the franchise food chain. And with Suh’s less-than-stellar reputation among players across the league (he’s consistently named as one of the dirtiest in the game), it may reach into the locker room, as well.

Suh’s embarrassing incidents on the field (and a few less prominent ones off it) have been well documented. So there will be a primary question about character. In Jacksonville, where the front office is putting an emphasis on “good guys,” Suh’s price and oft-discussed dirty streak may undo his overwhelming positives, particularly with him remaining squarely in the NFL league office crosshairs.

And in a place like Cleveland, where the Josh Gordon line of credit is nearing bankruptcy (not to mention the issues with Johnny Manziel), another potential character (in the bad way) may be the opposite of what that locker room needs.

3. Motor discussion

Anyone who has covered the NFL distinctly recalls the behind-the-scenes conversations about Albert Haynesworth and Julius Peppers. Front offices were kicking around a lot of the “what will he do when he gets a league-shaping deal” variables. And Suh won’t be immune, despite the fact that he rarely (very rarely) seemed to coast during his time in Detroit.

The realities of Haynesworth (seven years and $100 million with the Redskins) and Peppers (six years and $91.5 million with the Bears) went immediately in opposite directions following those huge deals – with Haynesworth falling off a cliff in 2009 and Peppers regaining All-Pro form in 2010. Judging by Suh’s intensity on the field, signs point more toward a Peppers outcome. The tricky part is not expecting an immediate massive return in the mold of Watt, who is poised to win defensive player of the year after signing his massive deal during the preseason.

If Atlanta were to get involved and the push were to take place under Dimitroff, this would be a major point of discussion. The Falcons smartly stayed far away from Haynesworth because of the motor concerns. But they also passed on Peppers because of some of the same questions. Suh’s candidacy would likely come under the same scrutiny.