Detroit Lions: Estimating cap space for start of free agency

The Detroit Lions will have a nice chuck of cap space to hit the 2018 free agent market, but just how much? Let’s run through the numbers.

We got an important bit of news yesterday with the NFL officially setting the 2018 salary cap at $177.2 million. That’s an important number, but it only tells part of the story in setting up how a team can approach free agency.

The NFLPA added another piece to the puzzle by announcing adjusted cap for each team based on cap space carried over from last season.

Carryover will add a little more than $4 million to the Detroit Lions‘ 2018 cap, for an adjusted total cap of over $181.3 million.

But this doesn’t do much to answer the question on the mind of most fans. How much money will the Lions have to spend when free agency starts next week? The league and team cap give us a starting point to work from to answer that question.

Current contracts

In the offseason only the top 51 contracts (by cap number) count against the team’s salary cap. The Lions have a total of $147,320,207 in contracts (top 51) on the books currently, including the $17.143 million franchise tag for Ziggy Ansah.

Dead money

The Lions currently have $6,184,320 in dead money counting against the salary cap due to players that were previously released or traded. These players include DeAndre Levy, Laken Tomlinson, Khyri Thornton and Antwione Williams.

Money to sign draft picks

The Lions will have to reserve a pool of space to sign their 2018 draft class, although the amount needed to do so is often over-estimated. Because only the top 51 contracts count towards the cap, each draft pick signed means another contract falling out of that top 51. Because of that, the net effect of adding the Lions’ seventh-round draft pick will be only about $21,000 against the cap. The total net additional cap charge for the six 2018 draft picks the Lions’ currently hold is $2,645,581.

2018 season reserve

Just because the Lions will have some cap space doesn’t mean they will use it all this offseason. Prudence dictates keeping a reserve to deal with injuries and another roster moves during the season. For the sake of plugging in a number, let’s say $5 million is held back.

Putting it all together

With a base salary cap of $177.2 million plus carryover bumping the Lions’ team cap up over $181.3 million, minus the team’s current cap commitments, dead money and additional space carved out for their 2018 draft class and a modest season reserve, the Lions can spend about $20.2 million this offseason.

2018 Salary Cap$177,200,000
2017 Carryover$4,151,311
Current top 51-$147,320,207
Dead money-$6,184,320
Net draft pick-$2,645,581
Season reserve-$5,000,000
Cap to spend$20,201,203

In terms of pure cap space – not accounting for the need to sign draft picks or hold some cap space into the season – the Lions are sitting at about $27.8 million.

It is important to note that a team’s salary cap situation is anything but static. Teams can create additional cap space by releasing players or restructuring contracts. If the Lions want to create more, they can. They can also structure a contract to have lower cap hits in year one to make the numbers work. For example, Rick Wagner’s five-year, $47.5 million contract signed last offseason has just a $5.9 million cap hit in each of the first two years of the deal before jumping to $11.9 million for the last three years.