Monday, January 16, 2012

Lions Cap Space & Free Agency

The Lions have a lot of cap space tied up into their current (2012) roster. By my count the team has 37 players signed and they are using up $108,702,884 in salary cap space. Now that looks like an exact number but it's not, it is my calculated guess. The Lions do not divulge salary information so all calculations must be pieced together from various sources, sources that aren't always correct, and even with that there are times when educated guesses are still required. At this point in the off season if I'm within a million dollars I feel I'm doing fairly well. Updates to my cap chart can and often do happen weekly as new information presents itself.

The above salary cap number includes the $1 million escalation that Matthew Stafford earned in his base salary by finishing in the top 5 at QB but it does not include the $4.5 million NLTBE (Not Likely To Be Earned) bonus that Calvin Johnson earned. That figure will be a cap adjustment for the Lions (meaning their available cap space will be reduced by that amount). All teams have the option of carrying over unused cap from 2011 and I expect the Lions to do so. All teams have the option of "borrowing" up to $1.5 million in cap from a future period simply by asking, I expect the Lions may take advantage of that as well. The actual base salary cap figure for each team (the unadjusted salary cap figure) has not yet been released, so there's another guess. Taking all my guesses into consideration I believe the Lions will have close to an adjusted salary cap figure of $124 million.

The sum total of these guess means the Lions have about $15.3 million in cap space available to re-sign their free agents or see them go elsewhere. They also need to have enough for their draft picks and they always go into the season with at least $2 million in space available.

So how are they going to do that? First, they will try to sign Calvin Johnson to a contract extension. If it's worked right, even though it's going to be the largest contract ever for a wide receiver, it could free up some cap space in 2012. CJ has a salary of $14 million in 2012 and by the Lions reducing that figure but paying a large signing bonus (that gets spread over the length of the new contract for cap purposes) it's possible to free up some cap space this year.

The Lions can also restructure some contracts to free up space. These five players have large salaries in 2012 and are all candidates for this move: Burleson, Raiola, Stafford, KVB and Suh. I'm not talking a pay cut, I'm talking about taking most of their salary for 2012 and paying it all at once as an advance, which then in turn would spread the cap hit out over the rest of their contract. For example; reduce Nate Burleson's salary down to $1 million from $4 million but pay him the $3 million as a signing bonus. The $3 million gets spread out over the remaining 3 years of his contract (a million dollars per year). The end result is he still gets $4 million in 2012, $3 million all at once the rest weekly during the season, but the cap hit goes from $4 million in 2012 to $2 million and adds $1 million in cap hits to 2013 and 2014.

Doing these restructures costs future caps as much as it saves in 2012, so a team doesn't want to do more then is necessary... but having the option gives the Lions room to work if need be. In fact, between the contract extension for CJ and contract re-structures for as many as 5 players, the Lions could free up well over $15 million, or double what they currently have available.

With that money (err.. cap space) the Lions need to re-sign (or find the replacements for):

Cliff Avril DE UFA
Jeff Backus T UFA
Bobby Carpenter LB UFA
Erik Coleman S UFA
Rashied Davis WR UFA
Leonard Davis T UFA
Isaiah Ekejiuba LB UFA
Andre Fluellen DT UFA
Ben Graham P UFA
Chris Harris S UFA
Jerome Harrison RB UFA
Shaun Hill QB UFA
Stefan Logan WR UFA
Brandon McDonald CB UFA
Maurice Morris RB UFA
Don Muhlbach C UFA
Kevin Smith RB UFA
Drew Stanton QB UFA
Maurice Stovall WR UFA
Stephen Tulloch LB UFA
Eric Wright CB UFA

Sammie Lee Hill DT RFA
Corey Hilliard T RFA
DeAndre Levy LB RFA
Ashlee Palmer LB RFA

It might be easier to see what work the Lions have to do if presented in a different format. I have a spreadsheet called "depth chart" that visually (by putting the above players in pale yellow) just how the team would be gutted if the Lions don't re-sign a large number of these players. The spreadsheet can be found at

I also have a spreadsheet with my salary cap computations on it on that same site (go to salary cap instead of depth chart in the menu system).

Next up, who should the Lions try to keep and who should they let go? After that, and something that also applies to the depth chart, is the 2012 draft. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wildcard Playoff Game 1 @ New Orlean Saints

No Holds Barred.

The Lions finally make it into the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1999. You remember 1999 right? Y2K, 56k Modems, and the Lions holding practice in Saginaw (sans Barry Sanders). Well, in keeping with the 90's the Lions saw fit to lose in the first round of the playoffs with a score of 28-45 after leading the game at half time.

So what happened? Simple really, the strength of the Lions D, and in fact the entire base principle of the defense, is a strong pass rush from the 4 on the D-Line, and that was totally negated, not by anything other then the refs allowing the players to play. In other words, they never called holding on the Saints, not once, despite repeated holds. Now it's true a hold could probably be called on every play, and it's also true that the Lions didn't get called as often as they held, but the Saints OLine took it to a new level and completely neutralized the Lions strength of their defense by holding all game long, blatantly, and with no repercussions.

That left it a shoot out, and a shoot out it was. The Lions are in the playoffs with a rookie WR, a 23 year old QB, and a ton of pressure. Still, until the mistakes started piling up in the 3rd and 4th quarter things were going rather well (for the offense). Stafford ended up 28 of 43 for 380 yards 3 TDs (and 1 Rushing TD) but with 2 INTs. Compare that to Brees' 33 for 43 for 466 yards and 3 TD's with no INTs. Calvin Johnson had 12 catches for 211 yards and 2 TDs, however, the entire Lions team managed only 32 yards rushing, that's not going to win you many games in the playoffs.

The Lions will need to address the run game somehow this off season, be it OLine, RBs, scheme, whatever. They will also need to work on the D some more (but we already knew that). There's a lot of work to do this off season with free agents (not so much getting free agents but not losing free agents) and then there's the draft where the Lions will be drafting somewhere in the early 20's. I've heard calls for replacing the DC but I don't think it's the scheme so much as continuing to build the talent on defense.

The Lions need to be able to play no holds barred football, and they need to do it against referees who bar no holds.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Game 16: Lions at Green Bay Packers


The now 10-6 Detroit Lions nearly broke the 20 year losing streak at Lambeau Field today where they lost to the Green Bay Packers 41-45.

Matthew Stafford was 36 of 59 for 520 yards, 5 TD's and 2 INT's. That brought Staffords total passing yards this season to 5,038... nearly enough to break Dan Marino's 1984 record of 5,084 yards. Never mind that both Drew Brees AND Tom Brady both broke Dan Marino's record this year... it was a tremendous season for a Detroit Lion Quarterback any way you want to look at it. Stafford did break another Bobby Lane record though, most games in a single season with 3 or more TD's (Stafford = 7, Layne = 6).

Calvin Johnson had 11 receptions for 244 yards and a TD today which was nearly enough for him to break Herman Moore's single season reception yardage record established in 2005, just 15 yards short.

Titus Young had 4 catches for 24 yards and 2 TD's, nearly had 3 TD's but the refs incorrectly called his other one complete out of bounds and because of a couple earlier bad calls by the officials the Lions were out of challenges. The Lions did get a field goal out of it but they could've used those 4 points (see final score).

So how did the Lions lose this game? The Lions defense was unable to keep pressure on backup quarterback Matt Flynn who threw for 480 yards, 6 TD's and 1 INT. It's that simple. But why weren't they able to keep pressure on Flynn? A number of reasons and you have to add them all up to get the result the Lions got.

1. Flynn may be a backup but he doesn't hold the ball forever before throwing it, he has a similar release to Rodgers and fits well in their scheme.

2. The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends that played in Green Bay are able to get open and get yards after the catch, that isn't news, everyone knows they are good at that.

3. Lions defense is entirely dependent on getting a pass rush from the front 4. They were unable to create that pressure on a regular basis this game. Note: Williams was unable to play this game, Fairley isn't close to 100%, and Hill started out strong but faded away later in the game.

4. Delmas didn't play and others are playing hurt. However, that shouldn't matter as the Packers didn't play some of their starters either and others may be banged up a bit. Difference here is the Packers are a little deeper in secondary depth, the Lions can't afford to be without that many starters on D if they are to play against a top notch O, which everyone knows the Packers are. Despite all that, the Lions nearly beat the Packers in Lambeau... the Lions D was no worse then the Packers D, not really.

It's possible (if the Lions can get past the New Orleans Saints this coming Saturday) that the Lions could end up playing the Packers in Lambeau again this post season, and this time it might be for a chance to play in the superbowl... so as far as breaking records go, I'd much prefer the Lions to win THAT game then THIS game... should it come to that.

All the Lions lost today was their 5th seed spot in the playoffs, they are the 6th seed and are playing toe to toe with the big boys, because even if it's hard for us fans to grasp it, the Lions are now one of the big boys too.

Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at the quarterback passing record... and see where the Lions 23 year old QB is on the list...

1. Drew Brees: 5,476 yards in 2011
2. Tom Brady: 5,235 yards in 2011
3. Dan Marino: 5,084 yards in 1984
4. Drew Brees: 5,069 yards in 2008
5. Matthew Stafford: 5,038 yards in 2011

That's not a typo, that's not a fluke, that's real numbers that are real hard to get unless you are one of the big boys.

Anyway, for 20 teams their season is over. They are flipping coins to determine their draft order (if they are tied with anyone else) and getting ready to fire coaches.

The Lions are not one of those teams. They are getting ready to play the Saints again this year in New Orleans and they have just as good a chance of winning that game as the Saints do. It'll be loud, it'll be tough, but it's not nearly the impossible task that it used to be. In fact, the Saints are going to have their hands full, especially after the Lions coaches get done challenging the Lions defensive players all week.

In preseason (you can go see my September blog post) I predicted the Lions would go 10-6 this year, take 2nd in the division, and make the playoffs. I was wrong on two games, they won one I thought they'd lose and lost one I thought they'd win, but as for the rest of it I'm dead one. So here's my first post season prediction...

Lions beat the Saints in New Orleans with a score of 30 to 28.

Things aren't nearly as bad as some seem to think.