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.


Hodor said...

Thanks for the work NetRat. Good stuff.

It's good to see Jim Schwartz is down at the East-West Shrine game right now, because the Lions need to have a real good draft and keep all the players on the roster this year to help save cap space. Jason Fox and then Culbreath and Hogue from last year need to be backups again as well, for sure.

Frankly they need a cheaper kicker too.

Empherical Evidence said...

Logan is under contract for the 2012 season, as far as I know, at slightly over $600,000. Excellent article, and you are correct when you say the information out there can be inaccurate.

Empherical Evidence said...

I have a list of my own for the Lions free agents, with the franchise tag values for each position for 2012.

bigwalt2990 said...

Cut KVB and Burleson. Does that save any money or do the penalties offset any cap savings?

bigwalt2990 said...

If we cut KVB and Burleson how much would it save off of the cap...or would there be too many penalties?