A long time ago, in the dark, dark NFL season that was 2012, I wrote about the dark portents of Capgeddon that were to come for the Lions and their cap situation that was looming in 2013. I tried to make up for it by pointing out that there was, in fact, a Silver Lining in the offseason in how the Lions could help mitigate the damage. I was even right about a few things, such as the Lions restructuring Calvin Johnson’s contract (They got more than 4.5 million, I had projected 3 mil), KVB, Titus Young, and Peterman being cut, and a few other things. Granted, I’m not perfect (I was completely wrong about how retirements and injury settlements work, I consider it a learning experience!), but even with the few things I had projected as possibilities that had come to fruition, the Lions had little chance of covering their draft picks and rounding out the roster. I didn’t give enough credit to the Lions, however, as they were able to make even more happen than I could have imagined. With restructured deals by Suh, Raiola, Burleson, and Johnson, and with some back loading of FA deals to many of the pickups the Lions made, the team was able to put together a pretty impressive offseason. The team was able to retain Louis Delmas and Chris Houston, one above and one well below market value, while picking up FAs like Reggie Bush, Glover Quin, and CJ Mosley. As good as the offseason was, there are a few potential problems that have savvy fans concerned, most notably the now bloated cap situation of 2014. Let me put your minds at ease.
Aight, so here we are, sitting with a comfortable $1,575,303 in cap space according to Spotrac.com (Who, if you’re not a fan, you should be). Based on a modified cap number of $121,991,017, the Lions are sitting pretty good with their actual cap hit around man roster. In fact, the team’s total cap for all 90 players is around $130,635,714, which isn’t that bad at all. In fact, if you go out a year, the complete 90 man roster cap hit for the remaining players is about the same, $137, 993,913. So not that much different. Man, 2014 should be fine, why are people getting so worked up. Well you see, the cap hit for a team is made up of their top 51 contracts. For 2013, that number is $120,415,714 according to Spotrac.
They don’t show that number for 2014, so let’s do a little math here. Let’s see, the cap for 2014 should be around $123,000,000 and since our total numbers are similar I should expect close to the 120 million we have right now, right? So hmm…carry the 7…$138,986,579. THAT’S $15 MILLION OVER THE CAP ALREADY FOR 2014, HOLY CRAP!!!
Yeah, figured that’d be the reaction
Let’s take a look at those numbers side by side, just so you can see them in a more digestible fashion, maybe that will help.
|2013 90 man roster||2014 90 man roster|
|2013 Top 51 Contracts||2014 Top 51 Contracts|
Wow, yeah, that didn’t lessen the blow at all.
Aren’t you supposed to be helping?
Yes, I’m working on it. Well, it’s an estimate…so there’s that… So maybe there’s a few things you’ll need to know to understand the Lions present cap, and their 2014 cap, a little better. So where do we get started?
Our present cap number isn’t our present cap number
Some of you already knew that teams only count their highest 51 contracts against the cap. Since teams keep 53 men on the roster, they essentially get two guys free, isn’t that nice? One thing they don’t really tell people is that the cap today is not representative of the cap that the team will carry into the season. Barring any signings, the Lions cap for 2013 will actually be lower than it is at the moment. This is caused by how deceptive cap numbers can be if viewed individually. The Lions cap number at the moment does not account for TEN draft picks from 2012-2013, many of whom are very likely to make the team, because they are not in the top 51 Salaries. So for instance, if reserve Linebacker and STer Corey Greenwood doesn’t make the team, but 2012 5th round pick Tahir Whitehead does (A very likely scenario), the Lions save about $170,000 (Greenwood’s cap of $650k – Whitehead’s Salary of $480,000). There are a lot of players who for obvious reasons will not be cut from the roster, and I won’t go into who will or who won’t (yet) make the roster to figure out an exact figure, but the Lions could save a few hundred thousand to a million or so dollars against the cap. Not a drastic difference, but every bit helps and it’s a good illustration of how deceptive the numbers can be.
Not every cap number is what it appears to be
Something I learned very quickly when the Lions started making some magic with their cap in 2013 is that contracts are not exactly what they appear to be. When Louis Delmas signed a nearly 9 million dollar deal this offseason, anyone with half a brain was disgusted that someone who had seen less than 50% of defensive snaps could get paid that much while he is still injured. As it turned out, the contract was much more team favorable, with much of the money tied into playing time escalators. 1.3 million of his contract was tied to a roster bonus, meaning he has to make the final 53 man roster to receive it. In effect, Delmas signed a short term, low risk deal that gave the team plenty of options. If Delmas plays well, but is unable to remain on the field, he could provide a simple restructure of his contract in 2014 (A pay cut), which when coupled with the small amount of guaranteed money on the contract would still likely be more than he could get on the free market. In this way, his 2014 $6.5 million cap hit is a number he’ll likely never see. Veterans at the end of their contracts, or near it, can do simple restructures of their contracts, forfeiting a chunk of their salary for the season. Both Dominic Raiola and Nate Burleson opted for this in 2013, and with Burleson slated to make more than $7.5 million in 2014, that’s a further possibility to lower the cap especially if Burleson is injured again or sees a reduced playing time. That number could conceivably drop all the way to $3 million, a much easier number to swallow.
It’s probably for the Best
Yes, Jahvid Best, who has been languishing on the roster ever since a very bad concussion in 2011 will likely meet a merciful end to his NFL career in 2013. The Lions actually stood to LOSE money by cutting Best earlier this season, but he will likely be gone before the 2014 season. It’s only about a million in cap relief, but when Best is finally released the Lions will manage to recoup some of the cost of having him on the roster.
And now comes the point in the article where I make no friends. Unlike 2012, which saw half the defense reach the end of their contracts all at once, 2013 is relatively soft in terms of who’s riding out their last. The Lions will have a serious need at TE and C, likely RT, but that’s about it. Every LB that will start in 2013 (Regardless of who starts opposite Levy), is under contract for 2014. In fact, every player that could conceivably start on the defense with the exception of Ron Bartell (who is no lock to make the team) is under contract for 2014. What this means is no huge contracts to retain their players if one or more Lion has a breakout season, and more importantly no possibility of the Franchise Tag in 2014. The Lions will lose some depth in 2014, but it’ll be more of a punch to the arm than the body punch that was 2013. This is less of a way the Lions are saving money than it is a way the Lions prevented themselves from having to spend money just to fill out their roster in 2014. But Kent you say, doesn’t that mean the Lions will face bigger troubles down the road? Ah, good catch, but no it doesn’t. With a few exceptions, which I’ll cover, the Lions managed to lock up a good deal of the teams expected starters and key players through 2015 as well. Turnover will be minimal. In 2014, the Lions will have to replace both starting Tight Ends (assuming both make the roster this season) and their longtime Center Domnic Raiola. They will likely need to upgrade or replace their starting RT as Fox’s contract expires and Hilliard will be on the last year of his.
You know it, I know it, the Lions are going to restructure some contracts in 2014. I don’t think it will be a large number in terms of contracts or dollars, but the Lions have restructured multiple contracts in every season to keep their heads above water. It is the WORST way for a team to get cap space, aside from when vets in their last year do simple restructures which are actual pay cuts. When a team restructures a contract, they move money from this year to the remainder of the contract. The more years left in the contract, the softer the blow. Lions signed several multi year deals in 2013, so they’ve got some room to maneuver if needs be to gain cap relief in 2014. Just remember that the money saved could come back to bite them in 2015.
Oh the meat
Onward to Extensions. Unlike restructuring, providing good or great players extensions is the BEST way for a team to gain cap relief. I’m going to cover a couple of the players individually to give you an idea of how much can be saved and a possible timeline for relief. Extensions are the primary reason I’m not concerned about the 2014 cap, and I hope you’ll see why.
Love him or hate him, an extension is coming for the 2009 1st overall draft pick. As much as fans are crying for Stafford to sign now, the Lions actually get a greater amount of relief if he signs this coming offseason rather than now. When a player signs an extension, their present guaranteed money is taken into account since that can’t be written out of a contract. It CAN be spread out over the life of the deal, but if a player has nearly 20 Million remaining in guaranteed and you offer them a deal like Flacco’s which has 52 million in guarantees, they are smart enough to realize that their deal is that much smaller. As such, waiting until next season, when Stafford has far less guaranteed money remaining, puts the team in a much more favorable position. Regardless of when the deal is done, the biggest savings will be immediate and the Lions can expect $10+ million in cap relief by inking their soon to be all time leading passer.
The common thought is that this one is a little trickier, but I don’t buy that for a second. Suh loves Detroit, and it always makes me cock my head to the side whenever fans claim otherwise. With a restructure this offseason, Suh all but sealed the deal on a long term extension in either 2014 or 2015. Unlike Stafford, this one is probably best worked out a year before his contract year due to an outrageous $21 million cap hit in 2014. Due to that high of an amount, an extension to the Lions best defensive player will save the team between $10 mil and $14 mil in 2014, taking a huge load off. Because of how his remaining contract is structured, his 2015 cap hit will likely be close to the same as it is now.
Rob SimsOne of the most pressing issues in 2014 will be resiging the Lions starting LG. Sims has been a very important part of the Lions offense, and long time LT Jeff Backus would have his best years with Sims beside him. Sadly, most Guards don’t get long term extensions, as they are one of the more likely positions to move from team to team, but it would be a very shrewd move for the Lions to sign Sims in the 2014 offseason to a long term extension before his contract expires. Doing so could save them between $1-1.5 million, which isn’t a lot, but is important to keep some continuity on an Offensive Line in flux.
This is a tough one, as Fairley has shown he can be absolutely dominant when he’s able to stay on the field. Fairley ranked 4th in both sacks and TFLs for a DT despite starting only 7 games in 2012, but his frustrating inability to stay healthy has left fans divided. Assuming a similar trend, the Lions could look to extend Suh’s right hand man with a team favorable contract including playing time escalators in a much less extreme version of Delmas’ contract, or they could let him ride out his contract in 2014 and see how it goes from there. If they opt for the former, depending on how Fairley plays in 2013, they could save $1 mil at best or nothing at all if he plays exceptionally well and stays healthy.
So we shouldn’t worry about the 2014 cap?
No, you shouldn’t. Sure, at first glance, it’s daunting. 15, almost 16 million over the cap before signing draft picks (4-7 million), resiging FAs, signing new FAs, that’s prety tough. When you look at the potential savings the Lions have staring them in the face, it’s likely to be tight against the cap again, but nowhere near as rough as 2013 was expected to be. If the Lions put together a good season in 2013, they have plenty still in place to make a run in 2014. If they have a poor 2013, they’ve got a solid structure to build upon without leaving the future coaching staff/GM the mess Mayhew and Schwartz inherited. Regardless of how 2013 goes, the Lions are over the financial hump years of failure in the pre rookie cap era sent them climbing. Unlike the 2013 offseason, we can all go into the 2014 offseason, winning or losing season, with the confidence the team won’t crumble under its own weight and no longer have the threat of the marquee players being moved for cap reasons. Essentially, the Lions can start behaving like a real NFL franchise for the first time since 2009 in terms of team building. There’s no more hole to dig out of. And no more excuses.