Don’t Blame the Old CBA for the Lions Salary Cap Problems

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Sam, a fellow amateur capologist, brought up a point to me on Twitter that I had been hearing a lot in regards to Matt Stafford and how the old CBA was a considerable factor in the current cap values of Stafford and the Lions cap problems. Immediately I thought what a good topic for discussion. While the old CBA could certainly hamstring teams for players who bust or fail to live up to lofty expectations, that really was not the case for Stafford and the Lions.

Lets go back in time a bit and look at the backend of Stafford’s contract when as it stood when originally signed. We’ll compare it to the other number 1 draft picks that were QB’s selected close to him in JaMarcus Russell and Sam Bradford. Mainly what we are interested in here are the final two years of the contract.

Stafford

Russell

Bradford

Total Value

$72,000,000

$61,000,000

$78,000,000

Final Two Years Salary

$22,500,000

$15,185,000

$27,000,000

Final Two Years Cap

$29,460,000

$25,800,900

$34,190,000

Sunk Prorations

$3,480,000

$5,307,950

$3,595,000

Dead Money (Year 5)

$6,960,000

$10,615,900

$7,190,000

Clearly upon signing Russell’s was the worst deal for the team with 42% of the contract value being applied to the cap in the last two years  of his deal and dead money in year 5 equaling 17% of the total contract value. That was the Raiders and nobody looks at them as reasonable for anything when it comes to contracts, so it should have been expected. But Stafford and Bradford had nearly identical deals. Bradford’s was higher but in terms of sunk money, which is the prorated money per year that would need to be accounted for in an extension, they were about equal as was the cost to cut in the 5th year of the contract.

Those numbers are CBA related. From there everything done to the contract is the sole responsibility of the teams. The Lions approached Stafford in 2011 for his first contract renegotiation because they needed salary cap relief. He converted $8.475 million of his base salary into a prorated bonus to help the team. Just one year later the Lions again needed to tweak the contract, this time adding a void year to the contract to help with the prorated salary. Stafford also hit some moderate contract escalators that raised the total value of his deal, but those should have minimal impact on the sunk costs in the grand scheme of things.  By the time they were finished with the contract Stafford’s contract now compared as follows:

Stafford

Russell

Bradford

Total Value

$73,500,000

$61,000,000

$78,000,000

Final Two Years Salary

$23,000,000

$15,185,000

$27,000,000

Final Two Years Cap

$39,640,000

$25,800,900

$34,190,000

Sunk Prorations

$8,320,000

$5,307,950

$3,595,000

Dead Money (Year 5)

$19,361,250

$10,615,900

$7,190,000

The Lions were the ones responsible for turning the Stafford contract into a bigger disaster than  Russell’s head scratcher with Oakland. The sunk cost in Stafford’s contracts following the renegotiations was just a touch less than Russell and Bradford combined. The dead money associated with Stafford’s deal made him un-moveable even if he flopped. This had nothing to do with the CBA. It had everything to do with the Lions poorly managing their finances. Now, even in an extension, the Lions can get little cap relief due to the high prorated costs nor could they obtain any leverage in a negotiation with Stafford. Stafford’s cap charges over the next 5 years will be similar to those of a $19 million dollar a year player.

Some will point to the Lions being forced into such restructures because they picked Calvin Johnson and Ndamukung Suh at the top of the draft in the old CBA. That’s true, but didn’t the Rams pick Bradford, Jason Smith, and Chris Long back to back to back at the top of the draft?  They sure did and managed to make out ok with Smith being sent packing last year to New York. The Chiefs had three top 5 picks from 2008 thru 2010 and didn’t have these same issues early on in the contract life of the players. Both the Rams and Chiefs have been able to spend on talent. The Lions keep digging a deeper hole trying to improve.

The Lions didn’t make difficult decisions when they had to. Whether it was holding off on adding a piece here or there to a team that has won all of 20 games the last 3 seasons, playing a little more hardball with Calvin Johnson on his extension or being more proactive with veterans who were not cutting it, the Lions created the situation. The CBA didn’t help but other teams have gotten by just fine under similar circumstances and blaming the CBA just does not cut it with the Lions.

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  • rhoneyman

    The point I believe is missing has to do with the total value of these rookie contracts. Under the new CBA, there’s no way to put together a rookie contract worth $12 million per year. The Lions were so terrible for so long, they had three killer contracts: Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh. It’s certainly true that mid-term restructuring made things worse at the back-end – just look at Suh’s numbers next year – but the source of the problem went away when the absurd need to make a rookie the highest paid guy in the league was finally addressed.

  • seenable

    In addition to the $8.3m sunk prorations for this year and next, doesn’t he also have $2.7m that was allocated to his 2015 voidable year?