Detroit Lions: 5 potential salary cap casualties heading into 2021

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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Detroit Lions
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

One positive thing that former General Manager (GM) Bob Quinn did last season was not spend all of the available salary-cap space.  Here are five players the Detroit Lions may opt to release in an effort to free up some additional cap space heading into 2021.

With the league’s cap expected to drop in 2021 significantly, it leaves plenty of organizations like the New Orleans Saints who are about $100-million over the expected league reset in complete cap-hell.

The cap is expected to drop due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has negatively impacted the league’s overall revenue.  The league generally sees upwards of 17-million fans in attendance, but that dropped to about 1 million in 2020.

According to Mike Florio of PFT, in 2020, the salary cap had been set at $198.2 million and is expected to fall to $175 in ’21, although as the article linked suggests, it may settle a bit closer to $180 million; still, a significant decrease is anticipated.

Bob Quinn did the Detroit Lions a favor by not spending all of the available salary cap space last offseason.

The Lions had roughly $30 million to spend but used about $20 million of it.  The league allows that cap space saved in 2020 to be rolled over into 2021, allowing the Lions to spend the difference onto the 2021 NFL Salary Cap.  So if the cap is set at $175, the Lions can safely bring that number to $185.

We’ll have much more clarity leading up to the new league year’s start on March 17th.

Our friends over at SideLion Report break down the situation very well in an article here.  Detroit will need to set aside just over $7 million to sign their upcoming rookie class, so the money ‘rolled-over’ from 2020 will essentially cover that, before trading Matthew Stafford.

Now that the organization added Jared Goff’s lucrative deal, Detroit is about $10 million over the cap.  Now the Lions need to free up roughly $17 million to sign their rookie class and get back under the salary cap.

Here are five current players the Detroit Lions may choose to release for cap relief in the coming weeks.  Salary details are courtesy of Spotrac.

Detroit Lions will save $4-million in salary cap space by releasing Danny Shelton.

If the Detroit Lions choose to release defensive tackle Danny Shelton, it will cost a mere $1.25 million in dead cap money for the 2021 season and save the organization $4 million.

As you can see, the transaction isn’t one that will free up a ton of money, but it’s a good start.  Shelton is a good player but is expendable.  Shelton was initially drafted 12th overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The stout 6-foot-2, 345-pound nose tackle never lived up to that draft position.  The Detroit Lions needed someone to replace Damon Harrison before the start of last season. Shelton fit former head coach Matt Patricia’s scheme perfectly but provided the Lions with a below-average effort in 2020.

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Shelton produced an overall grade of 51.1 in 2020, recording 38 tackles, 10 total pressures, and just one sack.  Shelton provides little-to-no pass-rush but hangs his hat on stuffing the run.

The Detroit Lions have plenty of options on the current roster to replace Shelton’s void if he’s released.  Detroit is likely to shift from a 3-4 defense or multiple sets to more of a traditional 4-3 front.

By doing this, the Lions can start second-year interior lineman John Penisini who began to emerge at the end of his rookie season, along with Da’Shawn Hand, Kevin Strong, and John Atkins.  All of which are far cheaper options.