Best & Worst Contracts: The Detroit Lions


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

dominic raiolaBest Contract: Dominic Raiola

I have had a difficult time coming up with names on some teams, but none more difficult that the Lions (though I have a feeling the Panthers will prove even harder). From a cap standpoint it is really hard for me to find a bright light for this team. Outside of the rookie contracts there just is not much good on the team. They have overvalued so many players relative to their skill level and for those valued well the contract structures have become a mess.

So why Raiola?  Of all the guys on lower level deals he is at least a proven commodity. He has been in the NFL forever and gives the Lions a steady force on their offensive line. Plus the Lions went in and slashed his pay for the year dropping his salary from over $4 million to $1 million. Due to prior prorated money he will still carry a cap charge that is about middle of the pack in the NFL, but he will play every snap and give Matt Stafford a familiar person to work with as Stafford tries to improve on last season.

That doesn’t mean the Lions got it totally right with Raiola. Had they released him as a procedural move and then re-signed him he would have qualified for the Minimum Salary Benefit and saved Detroit around $400,000 in cap space while allowing him to earn the same cash compensation.

ndamukong suhWorst Contract: Ndamukong Suh

Trust me I understand that the old CBA dictated Suh’s salary and to some extent his contract structure. What the old CBA did not dictate was multiple restructures that will cripple a teams salary cap well beyond the terms of the original contract. When you are a team that is in salary cap trouble as the Lions have been and continue to be, tough decisions are necessary. You either need to release players for cap relief or begin to restructure contracts to keep your team intact.

However, when you select option B you have to use the restructure on either older players that you won’t re-sign or younger players where the restructure will not completely cripple your negotiations. The Lions were always going to re-sign Matt Stafford. While the restructures did them no favors his cap numbers were still within the QB market plus its a high priced position to begin with. Stafford has the upside to be a top 5 QB which means you have a chance at a Super Bowl if he realizes the upside. Suh presents a different case.

Suh does not play at a high priced position. Suh does not play at a game changing position. Suh is not the best DT in the NFL and likely never will be. Even after multiple restructures Suh’s cap hit this season is 3rd in the NFL. Next season, his final under contract, it jumps to over $21 million.  That is $8 million more than the next highest player and almost $5 million more than the Cleveland Browns entire spending on DT’s in 2014. The Browns have the 2nd largest spend at the position in the NFL to the Lions.

The Defensive Tackle market maxes out around $9 million a year unless Geno Atkins, the best in the league, signs for more money with the Bengals. Suh should maybe earn a maximum of $8 million, but the handling of his contract has completely compromised the Lions position. The cost of releasing Suh next season is nearly $20 million dollars. The cost of letting Suh become a free agent in 2015 is $9.7 million dollars. Those numbers are the fault of the Lions managerial decisions not the CBA. Gerald McCoy, another high pick DT, will only carry $5.2 million in dead money if cut in his last contract year, $14 million or so less than Suh.

What leverage do you have at this point?  He is due to earn over $11 million and why should he give the Lions any discount. They can’t threaten to cut him. They can’t even threaten to let him play it out. The costs of him playing his contract out and not extending him is not workable. They have backed themselves into a corner to where Suh will likely be the highest paid DT in the NFL because the Lions have no other options. They had those options open to them before and can only blame themselves for whatever dollars they are forced to pay in the future.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersSan Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas CowboysNew York GiantsPhiladelphia EaglesWashington Redskins

NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers (July 19)



  • seenable

    “Outside of the rookie contracts there just is not much good on the team. They have overvalued so many players relative to their skill level and for those valued well the contract structures have become a mess.”

    Who have they overvalued, specifically?

    • I would consider them to have overvalued Chris Houston, Reggie Bush, Mike Thomas (though they have nothing to do with his deal since it was a trade), Shaun Hill and Stephen Tulloch. Quin Glovers deal is probably fair as is Louis Delmas if you take into account that the second year is just a bogus season. Scheffler is an ok value though I dont think he is worth in Detroit what they are paying him. He was my second choice for best deal.

      A player like Burleson was probably valued correctly when signed, but they should have either made him take a paycut or dumped him. As it stands now his contract is much more messy. Stafford has a messy contract and so does Calvin Johnson. Im not sure how to value CJ. Hes the best player at the position though Im not sure I agree with the idea of paying him Fitzgerald money. Not because he doesn’t deserve to be paid that way just that Fitzgerald’s deal is so insane. I liken it to the Jets fights with Revis when Revis wanted to be treated like Asomugha which the Jets refused. Even today when Revis got his money with Tampa they refused to give any guarantees. I understand why they did what they did with Johnson, but I think there may have been a better middle ground that would have benefited the team more. Its one of those weird ones where I dont think anyone will ever regret the decision, similar to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, but if they could have been a little safer with some of the cap it may have worked out much better.

      • Ox

        Did you write anything on the Bush contract is offseason. I don’t remember seeing one but would be interested in your expanded thoughts

        • No I never did anything on Bush. All the signings of free agency proved to be a bit too much for me to keep up with both writing and contracts except for major deals. Hopefully next year Ill be better prepared for that. Maybe Ill look at Bush at some point. I’m not a fan of Reggie Bush and I think he is overvalued tremendously because of his name. I still see him having a very difficult time doing anything that calls for inside as his tendency is to bounce. That said maybe the Lions end up a good fit for him if they catch teams playing pass all the time. His most effective times in NO were because of that.

          • Ox

            you certainly are going to have more insight than I will on this production verse value, but looking at his salary page here he doesn’t look he’s costing all that much (relative to other low RB1/high RB2) – $4M APY (your ranking of 19th out of 208, is that APY or is that his 2013 salary including signing bonus?).

  • Nick

    Nice timing of this article with the news that Detroit has declared bankruptcy. I’m sure that the Lions are wishing that they could follow suit and declare cap bankruptcy.

  • Ox

    Stafford, Johnson, Suh. These guys will be lucky to sign 3rd stringers in a couple of years.

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