Detroit Lions 2016 Salary Cap Casualty Possibilities

Photograph: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Photograph: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions will have more money to spend in free agency if they release some current players on the roster. Here’s a look at the likely candidates.

Calvin Johnson (WR, 2016 cap hit – $24,008,000):  Johnson has the biggest cap hit on the entire Detroit Lions team for 2016. The decision on whether to keep him, trade him, release him or restructure his contract will be one of the most important choices for new GM Bob Quinn. Johnson is an exemplary teammate, a (likely) future hall of famer and still an extremely valuable and terrific receiver. The Lions have no one to replace him, and little depth at the position.

Even so, Johnson’s play on the field (as well as his propensity for getting injured/playing at less than 100% healthy at this stage of his career) doesn’t justify his large contract. If the Lions choose to cut Johnson, they would save about $11 million, which is nothing to sneeze at. That money could be spent on free agents Quinn identifies as being part of the Lions future.

Ultimately, the decision on what to do with Johnson might not even be up to Quinn, as Johnson is still mulling the possibilities of retirement.

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Stephen Tulloch (LB, 2016 cap hit – $7.3 million):  Tulloch came back strong from last season’s injury. He compiled over 100 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries while manning the middle of the Lions defense. However, Tulloch is 31 years old, and he has a lot of mileage on his ten year NFL career. He also saw fewer and fewer snaps on third down (and obvious passing situations) this season, as he proved to be somewhat a liability in coverage.

Tulloch’s future with the Lions might be tied to whether DeAndre Levy gets 100% healthy this offseason, and whether or not the Lions can resign free-agent-to-be Tahir Whitehead. Regardless of what happens with Levy and Whitehead, Tulloch is still a candidate to be released, as the Lions may look to replace him with a younger, cheaper player.

Brandon Pettigrew (TE, 2016 cap hit – $4.65 million):  Pettigrew is listed as a tight end, but it might as well say offensive lineman next to his name, because he was practically nonexistent in the passing game this year. Pettigrew had a measly seven receptions (on 15 targets) and a mere 67 yards receiving  for the entire season. His targets, receptions and yardage have all decreased in each of the last five seasons. Even as a blocker, Pettigrew’s value is debatable.

If the Lions didn’t lack such depth at the tight end position, Pettigrew would likely be a lock to be released. Since Eric Ebron‘s blocking is still a big work in progress, there’s a possibility Pettigrew will be retained, but only time will tell.

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Joique Bell (RB, 2016 cap hit – $3.5 million):  Coming off a career year in 2014 (860 yards rushing), big things were expected of Bell in 2015. He was supposed to share the bulk of the carries with rookie Ameer Abdullah, but unfortunately Bell regressed. He managed just 311 yards rushing for the year, and he also had a career low 3.5 yards per carry.

Some of Bell’s lack of production could be explained by the fact that he was not 100% healthy. Some of it could be attributed to the Lions underwhelming offensive line play for much of the season. Still, Bell’s salary doesn’t currently match his production. Bell’s immediate future with the Lions may depend on the assessments of Bob Quinn’s assessment of him, as well as new RB coach David Walker.

C.J. Wilson (DL, 2016 cap hit – $2.3 million):  Wilson was a midseason waiver claim as a result of injuries and lack of depth along the Lions defensive line. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but Wilson contributed to the line rotation. Still his cap hit is 13th highest on the team, and his roster spot and production could likely be replaced by a draft pick.

Kyle Van Noy (LB, 2016 cap hit – $1.3 million):  Van Noy’s presence on this list may seem surprising. He has a manageable cap hit, he hasn’t had much time to be assessed at 100% healthy, and he’s a recent high draft pick (not to mention the Lions traded up to draft Van Noy). It’s not often teams give up on a talent so easily.

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However, GM Bob Quinn didn’t draft Van Noy (Martin Mayhew did). Bob Quinn also didn’t trade up for him. And injuries or not, Van Noy’s development has been maddeningly slow. If the Lions are really in a pinch to create salary space this offseason, and every penny counts, Van Noy could be released by the new regime.