Dead Money and Matt Stafford

I didn’t bother posting anything about the Matt Stafford contract the other day simply because I thought that it was so unlikely he would be traded that it wasn’t worth doing it, but for whatever reason yesterday we got blamed in a sense by PFT for having some incorrect numbers online regarding a trade so I wanted to set the record straight on that and explain the way that his contract likely works in the event of trade.

First of all its important to note that we do make mistakes on cap figures (this was not one of those times despite what was said) and do our best to keep them as accurate as possible. There are also at times issues with our dead money calculations. We generate those numbers pretty much on the fly and when you have contracts that do not conform to the norms (which Stafford’s does not) things can go a little haywire. Because a contract like Stafford’s is a one in a 1000 type of deal (probably more than that) to create a conditional equation for this particular situation is simply not worth the effort.

As soon as the reports came out about Stafford, which I don’t believe was first by PFT, I immediately put out a tweet that said the numbers being reported about a dead money charge of over $30 million were incorrect. Here is that tweet.

Secondly I don’t think there was one outlet of the original news stories that attributed that number to us or to Spotrac, which is the other site that tracks contract data generally by ripping from here but that’s neither here nor there at this point, so to turn around and then blame the websites for incorrect details is a bit ridiculous when you didn’t credit either of them in the first place. Still our numbers were incorrect in the dead money so here is why.

The Lions, like a number of teams late last season, made a number of contract adjustments to create cap room in 2020 in the event that the 2020 season is played under the final year of the CBA. Rules in place this year with the salary cap make it much more difficult to do the standard salary to signing bonus conversion that we see every February by teams with bad salary cap situations. So proactive teams like Detroit had to go to great lengths to modify deals at the end of the year to comply with the rules while also creating cap space in 2020.

Stafford was to earn $21.5 million on his original contract in 2020 and have a $31.5 million cap charge. What the Lions did was guarantee a $6 million roster bonus that is paid early in 2020 (the 5th day of the league year) causing it to prorate starting in 2019. They then converted part of Stafford’s salary into an option bonus which the team does not have to exercise for quite some time (basically the start of the regular season) which prorates starting in 2020. This brought his cap number down to $21.3 million.

From a technical standpoint both of these prorated figures count on the salary cap as if they were already paid and the league technically considers the roster bonus paid in 2019 (weve updated our pages to not make the same assumption). This is where the confusion comes in since if Stafford is traded the Lions did not actually pay him that money. There are relatively few examples historically where a trade happens in these instances but here is what I believe (not saying with 100% will but believe) would happen based on my understanding of the CBA.

If Stafford was traded before the roster bonus is actually paid the dead money for Stafford would be $21.2 million. This would be the prorated amount of his roster bonus this year and acceleration from his massive signing bonus from a few years back. There should be no acceleration of the roster or option since neither was paid and I don’t believe the option proration from this year would count either (they could just decline it prior to the trade to ensure it didn’t) . The deadline for this should be March 22.

Things should get a bit more complicated because if this is indeed the final league year the team should get credit on the cap immediately for money paid on the cap but not paid to the player unlike in a normal season where that comes as a cap adjustment the following season. So in this case the Lions should receive an immediate credit of $2.4 million to offset the prorated charges attributed to 2019 and 2020 for the unpaid roster bonus (if this years proration from the option remained it would also be credited). That brings the effective dead charge down to $18.8M. Again Im not saying this with 100% accuracy as this is a one in a million scenario (there has only been one other final league year cap rules and that was back in 2009) so I have little to compare it to, but I believe this is how it works.

Now if Stafford is traded after the roster bonus is paid out by Detroit the dead money increases. In this case Stafford’s dead money would be the old signing bonus money plus the prorated money from the roster bonus. This is $24.8 million, which is the number PFT mentioned in their latest article. There would be no offset number on this since the roster bonus was earned. Since the option was not yet exercised there should be no charge for that at this point.

If for some reason the Lions exercised the option and traded Stafford then you get to the full $32 million number everyone originally was going with and how its listed on OTC. That would make no sense for Detroit to do since the option timeframe is so long. If anything if the Lions have the cap space in the summer or at the end of the season I would expect them to decline the option and just take the full charge on the cap this season so waiting makes sense for them whether they truly want to trade Stafford or keep him.  

So that’s my take on how the Stafford contract unfold in the very unlikely event he is traded before or after the roster bonus is earned. I still dont see it occurring but those are the particulars in this contract.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC