The Detroit Lions have gotten a lot done in free agency, but that may be coming to an end as their remaining cap space starts to dwindle.
As the dust starts to settle on the heavy action in NFL free agency, it’s worth taking a look at where the Detroit Lions stand with their salary cap. With most of the high profile free agents off the board, and the few remaining not linked to the Lions, it appears the Lions are done with their major spending.
Today’s public salary cap report put out daily by the NFLPA lists the Lions with just over $8,584,004 in current cap space. [UPDATE: As of 3/16, the Lions’ cap space on the NFLPA report is down to $3,254,213]
If we take that as the up to date number, it leaves the Lions with ability to monitor the free agent market for values, but not much else. Aside from perhaps a few more small signings, here are some salary cap-related topics to consider as the offseason progresses.
What about signing the draft class?
Over the Cap has the Lions rookie pool for their 2017 draft class at just over $6.1 million but it doesn’t take that full amount to sign the class. During the offseason, the team’s total cap number is computed based on the top 51 contracts on the roster. When a deal is signed above the top 51 cutoff, a deal falls below it. That means the net effect on the team’s cap is the difference between the contract added to the top 51 and the contract that fell below the top 51.
Based on the Over the Cap numbers for rookie contracts, the Lions’ first four picks would take the place of four contracts currently counting toward the top 51 while their last four picks come in below the current top 51 line.
In other words, the Lions’ last four draft picks have no impact on the team’s salary cap situation. The Lions’ top 51 line is currently at $540,000, so $2.16 million of the draft class pool is already accounted for by contracts counting toward the salary cap that will fall below the top 51 line when the rookie class signs.
With the lat four picks not having an impact on the current cap situation, and the top four picks offset by $540,000 contracts currently in the top 51 that will fall out of the top 51, the Lions only need about an additional $2 million in cap space for their 2017 draft class.
To summarize in table form:
More Cap Space is Coming
Designating DeAndre Levy as a post-June 1 release means the Lions will see the dead money on Levy’s deal spread over the 2017 and 2018 salary cap. That results in additional 2017 salary cap savings, but the Lions don’t get the benefit of it until after June 1. That means their salary cap accounting is currently carrying dead money from Levy’s deal that will later be shifted to 2018.
While the Lions will get some salary cap benefit, it doesn’t do them any good now. However, that’s OK because…
Some Cap Space Needs to be Saved for the Season
Every team will face injuries and attrition during the season and it takes some salary cap space to deal with it. When a player goes on injured reserve, they come off the active roster but that doesn’t bring cap relief.
It takes cap space to sign new players, either off the street or from the practice squad, to replace an injured player.
With $4.8 million in Levy dead money shifting from the 2017 cap to the 2018 cap after June 1, the Lions may be able to ear-mark that money as their in-season slush fund, essentially offsetting the gain with what they will want to hold in reserve. Having some extra into the summer also positions the Lions to add veteran players who come available during training camp.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, unused cap space can be carried over from year to year. Without a “use it or lose it” situation, the Lions can keep a cushion and roll any unused cap space over to next year.
Cap Situation Shouldn’t Have Impact on Getting a Stafford Extension
With the expectation that the Lions will work out a monster contract extension with Matthew Stafford this summer, some fans might wonder how the salary cap situation would impact those negotiations. In short, I don’t think it will.
It may, however, impact how the Lions decide to structure the deal. Between salary, signing bonus, roster bonus, etc. there are a number of ways to structure a contract and they all have their own impact on the salary cap. Depending on how the Lions structure the deal, Stafford’s cap hit could go up or down from the $22 million cap number he currently has.
The expected mega contract that Stafford figures to get will may be a bigger challenge in terms of cash flow than cap accounting. Big money deals means writing big checks.