Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $14.7M ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 54
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 19(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 23
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
The Lions made the decision to not use the option year of Nick Fairley and you can’t blame them for that based on how he played. In the long run not using it should help the Lions work out a better contract. He looked much better last season before getting hurt and he should be a more affordable option on the interior and hopefully continue to develop…With all the problems the Lions had at kicker they should retain Matt Prater as long as the price is not excessive. Prater has a big leg and should perform well in home games for the team…Rashean Mathis should continue to play on a low cost contract and provided he stays healthy can continue to help in the secondary…Veteran CJ Mosley could be retained as a rotational player or stopgap starter depending on the situation next year.
Free Agents to Let Walk
It is hard to picture the Lions being successful if they continue this “big 3” philosophy with the team. In general the pairing of Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh has led to very little and because of the way the contracts are structured it makes it very difficult to spend elsewhere. Suh is going to be the hottest free agent of the year but the Lions would be better off having him go elsewhere. Suh is looking for $16 million or more a season, which is a ridiculous figure for a defensive tackle. If the Lions signed Suh at that number it would give them two position busting contracts on the team which is unheard of. They need to let him go…The team should look to upgrade at guard and get younger which means not bringing back soon to be 32 year old Rob Sims.
Contracts to Modify
If the Lions plan on re-signing Suh odds are they will need to go back in and restructure one of the other two big player deals. Johnson carries a $20.6 million cap charge while Stafford is at $17.7 so both could bring those numbers down by a few million. That being said the Lions have to get out of this cycle of kicking the can on these big player contracts year after year. It has compromised the team in regards to their future flexibility and negotiating leverage. They really should just stay away from any restructures at this point.
Players to Consider Releasing
Detroit has other options besides Reggie Bush and paying a running back over $5 million in cap dollars is something they can avoid. Could the team look to reduce his salary cap figure? They could, but at this stage of the game do they really need Bush on the team?…Jason Jones was the worst rated defensive player on the Lions according to Pro Football Focus and the team will save $3.15 million with his release….The Lions should consider the mistake they made with Brandon Pettigrew before sinking another $2.8 million into him. Designating him a June 1 cut could give the team more cap flexibility during the season.
Before the Lions can do anything they have to decide what to do with Suh, who already counts for nearly $10 million against the team’s salary cap. There have been rumors about the team franchising him which, if it occurred, would effectively end their offseason. Suh’s tag number costs over $26 million which would mean the team would have to squeeze every dollar they can out of those Johnson and Stafford deals just to tag him. That number would be higher than the guarantees coming in on multi year contracts for the position and Suh might just go and sign it and play the year out if it was actually applied.
If they do let Suh walk the Lions should be able to add one or two decent parts on defense or on the offensive line in free agency. While they can create cap room with those restructures it would be in their best interest to work with something like $20 million in cap space and add some mid level guys that can upgrade a few spots for the team. The team should also be actively seeking minimum salary veterans.
The Lions need to find both a tackle and a guard this offseason and both positions will have talent available in free agency. Provided they don’t aim for the top players on the list they can likely fit in a starting quality right tackle and left guard with whatever cap space remains after signing Fairley and some of their lower level free agents.
Every other need should be replaced in the draft. They should be able to find another cornerback and running back in the draft. If they don’t sign two linemen certainly one can come from the draft. This might also be a good time to try to find a developmental prospect at wide receiver who can grow into the third role and possibly move up the pecking order in the future as Golden Tate and Johnson get older.
For the long term interests of the team I don’t think you want to see a big splash coming out of Detroit this year. They have to believe in their foundation and start to take a slow and steady approach to taking that next step. The team really needs to rework some of the spending on the roster to invest more assets into the offensive line and out of some of those skills spots that are not paying off. Getting the team to be a consistent contender will be accomplished by being fiscally responsible and focusing on the draft and mid pay range players, not the perceived elite than have clogged their cap up for too many years.
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.