Hope everyone had a Happy 4th. Time to get back to our best and worst with a look at the Detroit Lions…
Best Contract: Dominic Raiola
There is no team in the NFL more difficult to find a good contract for than the Detroit Lions. Detroit invests a significant amount of money in their top tier talent, gets caught up with higher bonuses and salaries in their small second tier of veteran contracts, and has a number of low cost players to sort through. The two contracts on the team that should be considered are those of Reggie Bush and Dominic Raiola. The Lions did not extend themselves nearly as badly as they usually would with the Bush contract, but I think overall Raiola provides better value.
Last season Raiola had his salary cut to make him more affordable. At $1 million he was a bargain last year. I considered the fact that they failed to use the minimum salary benefit with him as a negative, but as things turned out it was a blessing in disguise for the Lions. By not using that designation and saving a few hundred thousand in cap room they were able to re-sign Raiola in February rather than letting another team try to tempt him to leave Detroit.
The terms of the contract were still advantageous for Detroit. Raiola received just $1.5 million for the year of which only $250,000 was guaranteed. Raiola was rated the second best center in the NFL in 2013 while his new contract ranks 22nd at the position. While a player of his age is not going to receive a long term contract paying millions on a three year contract, his play last year could have warranted a raise that would bring his salary above $2 million for the year.
Having a starting player on this contract is very beneficial for the cap strapped Lions, who still need to make moves just to function in 2014. It maintains continuity on the line and keep Matt Stafford working behind a player he is familiar with. Stafford’s development is going to make or break the franchise and finding a way to keep a player he is comfortable with is very important.
Worst Contract: Ndamukong Suh
While I often hear about how the old CBA tied the hands of the Detroit Lions, it is important to understand that the old CBA did not dictate performing annual restructures that would cripple a team’s salary cap in the late stages of the contract. Ndamokong Suh’s contract is an indictment on a front office that has had a difficult time making difficult decisions on their roster to maintain salary cap compliance.
One of the worst things about the old CBA was the rookie pay system. The contract value for the players selected at the top of the draft were so high that you had to consider positional values when you made the selection. Suh did not play a premier position which meant immediately upon drafting he would be the highest priced defensive tackle in the NFL. This is a very different situation than Matt Stafford who received a larger contract but would only hit the tail end of the top 10 because his position is a premier position.
When you begin having salary cap problems and you make the decision to restructure deals for cap relief rather than releasing players or minimizing efforts in free agency, you have to take these positional values into account. The Lions reworking of Stafford’s contract was bad, but it still somewhat in the parameters of the position. Reworking Suh’s contract was something that should never have even been considered.
Due to the reworking of the contract the Lions have been left with a $22.4 million cap charge in 2014, the final year in which Suh is under contract to the team. That alone blocks the threat of a franchise tag next season since the tag would be equal to 120% of Suh’s cap charge in 2014. Suh already had a voidable 2015 season in his contract so the Lions are also on the hook for dead money if an extension can’t be reached. That number is significant- $9.737 million. To put that in perspective, that number is higher than the dead money currently being carried by 17 teams in the NFL. Simply put the Lions have zero leverage to negotiate a contract with a player who plays a position that has one veteran contract earning over $10 million a season (Geno Atkins at $10.66M a season with $15 million fully guaranteed).
The best comparison one can make in handling of the contracts is with the Buccaneers treatment of Gerald McCoy. McCoy was selected one spot behind Suh and should have a similar style contract. McCoy’s cap charge this season is about $7 million less than Suh’s and his dead money this season about $14 million less. His contract also voids and would leave the Bucs with just $2.6 million in dead charges, $7 million less than Suh will leave the Lions with.
It was managerial decisions that turned the Suh contract into this noose around the neck of the Lions. Now they are really stuck and may have a difficult time negotiating a deal with realistic terms. Their best option now may be to let him clog up the teams cap at the $22 million figure and let him explore free agency and then hope they can re-sign him in March at a reasonable salary rate. That is about the only way they can get any fair starting point in negotiations.
2013’s Best and Worst Lions Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Dominic Raiola (See above)
2013 Worst Contract: Ndamukong Suh (See above)
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.