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Sunday, January 13, 2013

How much cap space will the Detroit Lions be able to free up?


In my last post I hopefully was able to express somewhat accurately the salary cap situation the Detroit Lions are currently in. One thing to remember, this "news" to many fans is not news at all to the Lions. They've known about all of this since the 2012 season began when their final roster cuts were made late last August. They haven't just started to think about what to do, they've likely got multiple plans worked out to cover multiple scenarios. If they don't, they probably shouldn't have remained in charge after a 4-12 season. The only new variables they have now compared to 5 months ago are updated rankings on their own players (based on how well they did in 2012) along with end of season medical reports.

With that said, I've been asked repeatedly lately what options the Lions have to free up cap space. Allow me to give some examples of things that could be done with various players.

C Dominic Raiola. Dominic is on the last year of his contract in 2013. He is signed to earn a salary of $4,050,000. Many have suggested to me that he should simply be cut as that will free up $4.05 million in cap space. Never mind the Lions have no one on the roster to take his place (unless you are counting on Rodney Austin to do so). What else could be done besides an outright cut? He could be offered up for trade I suppose, if some other team thought he'd be worth having at $4.05 million for one year (which would free up the same amount of cap space as if he were cut) but that still leaves that starting job on the roster unfilled. He could be offered a contract extension (which is kind of what I'm expecting actually). Say he signs a contract that replaces his current one for 5 years and a signing bonus of $4 million, with salaries of $800,000 in 2013 and $5 million in each of 2014 thru 2017. The cap gets hit in 2013 for only 1.6 mill freeing up $2.45 million. Cap hits in 2014 thru 2017 would be $5.8 million each, but he could be cut (or traded) in any of those years to save cap space if needed yet the cap charges for each of those years isn't so high as to prevent the team from keeping him on the roster. What happens would depend on his willingness to work with the Lions front office and on how badly the team wants to keep him and at what cap charge.

QB Matthew Stafford. Matthew is under contract for 2013 and 2014 with a voidable 2015 which I'm sure gets voided. The Lions could go the simple route as they have done in the past and take most of his 2013 salary ($12 mill) and turn it into a signing bonus spreading it out over the 3 years remaining on his contract (frees up roughly $7.4 million in cap space in 2013) or they may try to get him under contract for a longer period of time and replace his current contract with an extended one (the more likely and preferable option). A new contract will have to include big numbers, enough to make the $23 mill in salaries for the next 2 years that he would've made seem like a good thing to give up, plus any current signing bonus allocations on the books don't go away no matter what so the cap hits will still be fairly big, but a 5 year $100,000,000 contract (or something like that) with a $25 million signing bonus and salaries of $1 mill, $1 mill, $18 mill, $20 mill and $22 mill could possibly fly. Cap hits with something like this added to the ones already on the books would equate to $14,151,250 in 2013 and 2014 (a savings of $6 million in cap space in 2013 and $7 million in 2014), $25,552,500 in 2015, $25 mill even in 2016 and $27 mill even in 2017.

WR Nate Burleson. Nate is scheduled to make salaries of $4.5 mill in 2013 and $5.5 mill in 2014. On top of those salaries he has cap allocations of $1,574,583 each of those years for previous signing bonus contract re-works. If he's cut the 2 years worth of allocations accelerate into 2013 but since one counts regardless, the loss of his salary frees up $2,925,417 in cap space for 2013. He could also be cut and designated a post June 1st cut, which would free up $4.5 million in 2013 cap space but create $1,574,583 in dead cap space in 2014. Word is, he might be willing to accept a pay cut to remain on the roster. If for example he'd take a $2 mill pay cut in 2013 that frees up $2 million in salary cap just like that. Perhaps he'd even be willing to work for $1.6 million, which would free up $2.9 mill in cap space, the exact same amount saved if he were cut!

There are many other players who could be cut, or extended, or traded, or that may accept a pay cut to stay employed by the Lions. Who and how much is yet to be determined. I think the Lions could free up anywhere from $16 million to $22 million, possibly more, if everything worked out right. Sounds like a lot but there are a lot of guys who will be leaving in free agency if they are not re-signed and that cap space will be used up real fast. The front office is going to have to be very judicious with their contracts this year.

Back at the beginning of this post I made comment as to the players being ranked. The Lions every year evaluate the players on the team, assign them a grade, and based on that grade they make roster decisions. They also assign a value, if a free agent player can be re-signed for that value (or less) they proceed, if he can not be signed for that value, he's allowed to look elsewhere. In the past the salary cap hasn't been the deciding factor in the roster makeup so much as the players grade and corresponding value. All players who are to be free agents from other teams are also graded and have values assigned, from this pool they look to fill out as much of the roster as they can prior to the draft so they aren't forced to draft a specific position but rather take the BPA that stands a chance to make the roster. For the most part, I see nothing that will be different this year, other then that the contracts themselves will have to be cap friendly in 2013 to whatever extent possible. The Lions still plan on building through the draft not free agency so once again don't look for any big splashes once free agency starts... not that the Lions will have the cap space to make any splashes anyway.

With that, I shall begin work on my estimated roster for 2013, it's not really going to be that easy this year, what with so many potential changes about to happen. Presently the Lions depth chart has only 2 DE's (and one of them might be cut); 2 Safeties; no kickers, punters or a long snapper; and their running backs consist of Best, Leshoure, and Devin Moore. They do have the 7 restricted free agents they may tender offers to if they can free up the cap space but at the moment the roster has quite a number of holes on it.

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