Coming of the Lions first playoff season in forever expectations were high for Matthew Stafford and company to continue the ascension, but they came tumbling down to a 4-12 record in 2012 and are staring at wholesale changes in 2013.
The Lions have been one of the most active teams since the start of the waiver period releasing WR Titus Young, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, and G Stephen Peterman to slash $8.519 million in cap charges and to move the team about $2.6 million under the cap. With the need to upgrade the entire defense the Lions still have to do a lot more cap magic before they can be considered to be relevant players in free agency.
The big contract in the room is that of Matthew Stafford which occupies $20.82 million in cap space. The Lions prior cap issues have seen them get almost as much out of this contract as possible and they may need to extend the young QB. It is a move that really needed to be made last year because with Joe Flacco angling for a high priced market setting contract Stafford is likely not going to budge unless the Lions bring his APY into the Drew Brees $20 million a year territory. With that in mind they may be forced to restructure again and wait for the Flacco deal to come in. Reducing his base salary to the league minimum and turning the rest into a signing bonus frees up $7,856,667 in cap room now but pushes his cap figure to over $23 million in 2014 and prorated money that year to $12.148 million making it very difficult to get cap relief for him in 2014 under any extension. I would opt for extending him now where I can probably make the contract more reasonable and likely find some outs at the backend of the contract. I don’t think the Lions can do that if they wait until next season.
The other nightmare is Ndamukong Suh who should take up $18.172 million in cap space once all escalators are accrued by the NFL. No can discount Suh’s talent but he might be the dirtiest player in the NFL. The amount of money they have invested in a DT is enormous at these figures and completely out of the realm of normalcy for the NFL, partially the fault of the old rookie system and partially their own fault for making the backend of the contract even worse by restructuring early in the deal for cap relief. Unlike Stafford’s situation I don’t see this as being an extension situation. There are just too many variables in a player like this to consider it. They can perform the same trick with Suh as Stafford and push money into the future but that makes his cap charges in 2014 close to $20 million and his dead money in his void year close to $9 million. Though certainly a very useful player the whole decision making process with the contract has been poor and they are feeling that pain now. Suh makes up about 50% of the teams defensive cap spending.
There are few cuts left that will bring significant cap relief to the team. Cutting Shaun Hill frees up $2.75 million and he is as good as gone. Nate Burleson would free up $2.468 million in cap room and TE Tony Scheffler frees up $2.45 million. With so much money invested in the offense they have to cut from that side of the ball and those two are good candidates. Overall it’s a pretty bleak situation.
Notable Free Agents
The Lions only have 47 players under contract and a number of free agents. The biggest is DE Cliff Avril who played last season on the franchise tag. It is doubtful that he could return under any circumstance. CB Chris Houston will hit free agency as well. Other names include DT Corey Williams, LB’s Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy and S Louis Delmas.
The Lions have 6 draft picks which will cost the team an estimated $6.236 million in 2013 cap dollars. Because the Lions only have 47 players under contract almost all of this money will count towards the salary cap rather than just the signing bonus money which is the norm for most teams. Between the current contracts, expected rookie salaries, and free agents its just a bad cap situation any way you slice it.