By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

PHOENIX – Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew gave an emphatic answer Monday to the question of whether he would have done anything differently in the team’s pursuit of All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

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“You see a lot clearer in hindsight, so yeah, there’s about 1,000 things I would do differently,” Mayhew said, “but you make decisions in real time, with the information that you have, and I feel good about every decision that we made every step along the way.”

Mayhew would not elaborate on what specifically he would do differently, but he defended the choices the Lions made throughout the process. For one, Mayhew said he has no regrets about tabling negotiations with Suh before the start of the 2014 season. The general manager cited Suh’s impressive production and the team’s success as reasons why the Lions made the right move by temporarily suspending talks.

“You never know if that would have happened if that had been a distraction or become a distraction,” Mayhew said. “I didn’t think it was worth that risk.”

Mayhew would not say whether the Lions considered reopening talks once Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt re-signed with their teams for mega-money, but Mayhew hinted those signings had to happen before talks could go anywhere.

“I think it was important that those deals got done in terms of some perspective of where the market was,” Mayhew said.

Leading up to free agency, Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand often characterized themselves as optimistic about the team’s chances of re-signing Suh. Mayhew said his confidence never wavered, though he noted that at the Combine he allowed for the possibility that Suh could leave.

“I don’t think my optimism level ever really ebbed and flowed,” Mayhew said. “I felt optimistic throughout the entire process. There was never a time something happened and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s going to happen right now,’ and there was never a time I wasn’t optimistic about it.”

Mayhew would not say exactly when the Lions extended to Suh their six-year, $102 million offer with $58 million guaranteed, but he said it was some time in March. Suh ended up getting $114 million and $60 million guaranteed from the Dolphins, but Mayhew intimated the guaranteed money was not the only issue.

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“There’s a lot of different ways to give somebody $100 million, so a lot of times the structure kind of comes into play too, and all those things matter,” Mayhew said. “But I know we have some quality players on our team that we probably couldn’t keep if we had that deal on our books.”

Mayhew, who said he has exchanged cordial text messages with Suh since the player’s departure, expressed confidence Suh did want to stay in Detroit.

“I had a long talk with him at the end of the season,” Mayhew said. “If you know him well, you know that he takes his word very seriously, and he takes the things that he says — and the things that you say — very seriously as well. We had a long talk about whether he wanted to be here or not. I believe that to be true, that he wanted to be here, so that part of the equation never changed, I don’t think.”

The deal Miami offered, however, the Lions evidently did not want to match.

“It got to a point where economically, in terms of building a sustainable quality football team, it didn’t make sense,” Mayhew said. “At that point, we decided that we weren’t going to continue to offer more.”

The Lions already have massive amounts of money tied up in two players, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. To retain Suh would have required the commitment of another huge chunk of the team’s salary cap. While the Lions wanted to keep Suh, Mayhew says that losing him could benefit the team in the future.

“I think any time you lose a quality player like that, especially in the short-term, that is to your detriment,” Mayhew said. “I think in the long-term we’re going to be glad we don’t have that contract on our books. But in the short-term, that’s an issue.”

Detroit could have forced Suh to stay one more season by using the franchise tag on him, albeit for an obscene price, but Mayhew said that would have taken the Lions in a direction they do not want to go.

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“Probably since we did Matthew’s contract, whenever that was, we’ve always had that sort of, we’ve been kind of top-heavy with a few guys up there,” Mayhew said. “The thing about the franchise tag, really, was continuing to kick the can down the road and restructure deals to make that happen, and we want to get out of that situation at some point, so that didn’t make a lot of sense.”