Detroit Lions Free Agency: How Logan Ryan Could Fit Financially

Feb 1, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan during a press conference at the JW Marriott Galleria in preparation for Super Bowl LI. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan during a press conference at the JW Marriott Galleria in preparation for Super Bowl LI. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Logan Ryan has been a popular subject of speculation for the Detroit Lions in free agency, but how would he fit financially after Darius Slay’s big deal?

Combine Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn’s connection to the New England Patriots and the team’s need for talent on defense and it is no wonder cornerback Logan Ryan’s name has been at the fore of Lions free agency talk.

That got kicked up a notch thanks to a report from the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin citing sources believing that Ryan will in fact be one of the Lions’ top targets when free agency opens this week. From Volin:

"The general feeling around the league is that Logan Ryan will price himself out of the Patriots’ market — potentially $10 million per year — and three different sources mentioned the Lions, who need a cornerback and are run by GM Bob Quinn, a former longtime Patriots scout."

Ryan has been a key contributor to the Patriots defense, but appears unlikely to re-sign with the team prior to the start of free agency. A big part of that has to do with teammate Malcolm Butler also nearing a big pay day, and the Patriots have been notoriously selective in which players they sign to big contracts. If they’ve chosen to do so with Butler at Ryan’s expense, as it appears they have, that sets the Lions up to make a run at Ryan in free agency.

But does it make sense? Remember, Ryan may well never be in position to leave New England if not for a big payday coming to Butler, not unlike the Lions did with Darius Slay prior to last season. It may not be the “Patriot Way” to have two cornerbacks on big contracts, but the Lions could do so without becoming an NFL outlier.

According to Over the Cap’s positional spending data, the New York Jets topped cornerback spending in 2016 with $24,531,901 allocated to the position in 2016. Seven other teams crossed the $20 million threshold.

As things stand today, the New York Giants are set to lead cornerback spending for the 2017 season at $28,448,694. The Washington Redskins are also poised to be above $25 million and a total of ten teams are scheduled to have over $20 million going toward cornerbacks for the 2017 season.

If we take Volin’s number of $10 million per season for Ryan (with an estimated structure on a four-year deal) and add that into the Lions’ cornerback salary cap outlook for the next four seasons, the Lions would be pushing into the upper echelon of cornerback spending, but would hardly be breaking new ground.

Player2017 Cap Hit2018 Cap Hit2019 Cap Hit2020 Cap Hit
Darius Slay$10,681,250$5,576,269$15,400,000$13,400,000
Logan Ryan*$8,000,000$11,000,000$11,000,000$10,000,000
Johnson Bademosi$2,350,000
Nevin Lawson$1,872,146
Quandre Diggs$643,838$733,838
Adairius Barnes$540,000

*Free Agent target, not signed to team. Financials are theoretical only.

Signing Ryan would give the Lions a lot of certainty at their top two corner spots but would leave a lot of uncertainty beyond that. With Nevin Lawson and even special teams standout Johnson Bademosi only signed through 2017, the Lions will have a lot of work to do on the depth chart behind Slay and Ryan but not a lot of money to get it done without getting their position spending out of whack.

The way to do that is the draft, but when and where? The answer to that may be the 2018 draft rather than the 2017 draft, and in either case, it’s probably with a pick or picks late on day two or on day three. With over $26 million of cap spending in this scenario going toward Slay and Ryan, the trick will to build out the rest of the cornerback depth chart (figure four more players) with low cost players.

The Lions’ second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is scheduled for a cap hit of about $1.3 million in 2019. Looking ahead to 2019 by adding day two corners in each of the next two drafts would have the Lions easily pushing $30 million in cornerback spending in 2019. A more likely, and prudent route, would have the Lions mining for gems on day three in the 2017 and 2018 NFL Draft to build depth and plan for beyond 2020.

Next: Detroit Lions 7-Round Mock Draft v2.0

Of course, this is all entirely hypothetical and dependent on Logan Ryan actually being pursued and landed by the Lions. The numbers will be big, both individually for Ryan and in the bigger positional context if it happens, but the Lions have the ability to go down that route if they so choose, especially with a rising salary cap.