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Detroit GM Martin Mayhew says franchise tag may be an option for keeping Ndamukong Suh

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ALLEN PARK, Michigan — As usual, Martin Mayhew chose his words carefully when assessing the offseason for the Detroit Lions — but the biggest issue facing the team is fairly obvious.

Ndamukong Suh, Detroit's All-Pro defensive tackle, can become a free agent now, and if he leaves, the Lions would have to scramble to replace his formidable presence in the middle of their defense.

"I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with him on Monday," said Mayhew, Detroit's general manager. "We had a good conversation. We look forward to working with him to try to get a deal done."

Mayhew spoke to reporters for about a half-hour Thursday, recapping a solid year in which the Lions made the playoffs for only the second time in the past 15 seasons.

Suh was a big part of Detroit's 11-win season, helping the Lions become one of the league's top teams against the run.

Mayhew said Suh is open to staying in Detroit.

"We talked about that on Monday, had a good conversation with him," Mayhew said. "He wants to be here and we want him to be here. As I said before, I think that's a pretty good combination. We'll see how it all plays out."

Mayhew said he's leaving all options open with Suh — including the possibility of using the franchise tag on him. The team's preference, though, is to reach a long-term deal.

The fact that Detroit is coming off an encouraging season probably won't hurt.

"He likes to win, I know that," Mayhew said. "I know he likes coach (Jim) Caldwell, I know he's very comfortable here in Detroit, so those things all play in our favor. At the end of the day money talks, so we'll have to step up in terms of pursuing him financially as well."

Suh's situation — however it's resolved — could have a major effect on the rest of Detroit's plans this offseason.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley can also become a free agent, and the offense is coming off an uneven season in which the line struggled to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Although he addressed Suh's uncertain future, Mayhew wouldn't talk much about the status of any individual players. Veteran offensive linemen Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola have reached the end of their contracts, and offensive lineman Travis Swanson — a third-round pick in last year's draft — may be ready for a bigger role.

Making the playoffs was an important step in Caldwell's first season as Detroit's coach, but the Lions lost the regular-season finale at Green Bay with the NFC North title at stake. Then they fell 24-20 at Dallas in their postseason opener.

"We have to get better from a talent standpoint. We have to be a better football team," Mayhew said. "I think we're a good football team right now, but we're not a great football team. We have to be able to go and win at Green Bay, which we have not done in a long time.

"Having a bye and having a home game would have obviously helped us in terms of the playoffs and advancing. In those games, the other team played better than we played and we lost."

One thing Mayhew didn't want to do was dwell on the pass interference flag that was rescinded late in the loss to Dallas. The reversal by the officials cost the Lions what would have been a huge first down, and the Cowboys ended up rallying to win.

"I think that the focus on a couple bad calls takes away from the fact that two really good teams played an outstanding football game that day," Mayhew said. "You know, when the penalty happened there were eight minutes left in the game when they got the ball back.

"We had every opportunity to do something to overcome that and do something positive to win that game and we didn't. ... I'm from the old school of, 'No excuses, no explanations.' Did you win the game? No, we didn't win it. They won it, they advanced. We hope to see them next year at some point."

NOTES: Mayhew was asked about rugby star Jarryd Hayne, who visited Detroit recently during his tour of NFL teams. "We're always on the lookout for players that can help us," Mayhew said. "We'll see what happens. He's still out there and he's still looking at other teams as well. I'm not sure what'll happen with him, but we'd like to have him."


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