Lions 2016 Offseason Preview

Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: $23.9 million


Expected 2016 Cap Space: $41.7 million


Estimated Rookie Cap: $6.981 million


Roster Overview


Players Under Contract: 46
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 16(6 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 16

Salary Cap Breakdown

Lions Salary Cap

Lions Offensive Spending

Lions Defensive Spending

Free Agents to Re-sign

I like the idea of keeping Jason Jones as a backup and injury protection option. He’s an effective situational player and can be beneficial to the defense…Isa Abdul Quddus played well when his playtime increased and won’t be that expensive to keep next season…Tyrunn Walker’s season was cut short by injury so they should be able to keep him on a similar affordable contract… Tahir Whitehead will be brought back to start at linebacker…Lance Moore had a surprising season and should be back as a familiar target for Matt Stafford.

Free Agents to Let Walk

I never understood the trade for Haloti Ngata in the first place and I have to think there will be some team willing to overpay him just based on name value. The Lions can not be that team…James Ihedigbo lost his spot last year and there should be no interest in binging him back. . I think it’s already a given that Manny Ramirez will not be offered a contract to return.

Contracts to Modify

For the first time in a long time the Lions don’t really have to do anything with the contracts on their team to get in position with the cap….Extending Ziggy Ansah who is eligible might save the team a few dollars in the long run and help with the guaranteed portion of the contract. Extending the younger talent can help the front office set a mark for how they will approach new contracts in the future and this might be a good test case… The team may look to get Riley Reiff extended to bring his overall contract and cap number more in line with his level of play. That decision depends on if they see a future for him long term or not.

Players to Consider Releasing

As I was writing this the Lions informed Stephen Tulloch ($6M cap savings) that he would be cut. This should be no surprise and the Lions need to get younger on defense…Brandon Pettigrew has always been overvalued and with a new front office players like him are in danger of getting cut. They would save nearly $2.7M on the cap if they cut him…CJ Wilson had 1 sack in 8 games for the Lions. They might not want that for $2.3 million.

Salary Cap Analytics by Bryce Johnston

The Lions rank 16th in True Cap Space and 17th in Commitment Index, meaning that they are in a completely average salary cap situation with respect to both the present season and future seasons.  The team does not possess many contracts likely to be terminated, which means that most of the approximately $88 million of True Cap Space will be used to retain players currently under contract – players that produced a 7-9 record last season.  And while Calvin Johnson’s reported retirement will preserve additional True Cap Space as compared to what might have been expected (only a 20% likelihood the Lions would have released him), he also continues to be one of the team’s better players.

As a result, the Lions are an average team in an average salary cap situation and must spend their cap room relatively efficiently just to replace the talent that may depart via free agency or retirement.  One potential explanation for parity in the NFL is that many teams find themselves in a similar position, essentially stuck on an asset treadmill that involves utilizing cap and draft assets each year just to replace departing and declining talent, rather than aligning assets in time so as to deliver maximum impact (i.e. winning 7/8/8/9 games over four years instead of trying for 4/5/11/12 games).  Absent particularly strong drafting, it is difficult to see the argument whereby the Lions become a consistent playoff team over the next several seasons based on the current status of their football assets.  Instead, the team seems positioned to remain good enough that relative luck in terms of health or bounces of the ball can leave them with a strong record in any given season.

Bryce Johnston, @NFL Cap Analytics

Expected Contract OutcomesExpected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions.   The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016.  A pay cut is treated as a termination.  We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options.  Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.

PlayerPositionExpected OutcomeExpected Savings
Eric EbronREC99.5%($19,098)
Ezekial AnsahF799.3%$0
Matt PraterKP95.0%$96,250
Golden TateREC93.2%$3,211
Matt StaffordQB90.6%$1,081,000
Calvin JohnsonREC80.5%$2,167,377
Glover QuinnDB72.4%$530,610
DeAndre LevyF766.3%($656,565)
Stephen TullochF733.6%$3,985,200
Brandon PettigrewREC24.0%$2,014,530
CJ WilsonF718.0%$1,885,310
Joique BellRB16.2%$2,095,500
Expected Change in Cap Room$13,183,325


True Cap SpaceRealizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms.  Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.

True Cap Space (2016)
Adjusted Salary Cap$150,880,941
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts($34,411,370)
Realizable Cap Space$116,469,571
Fully Guaranteed Salary($5,871,736)
Minimum Salary Cap Holds($22,050,000)
True Cap Space$88,547,835
League Rank16th

Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments  as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams.  A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments.  The Commitment Index Score of every team in the league changes to at least some degree with every transaction executed by any team in the league, so Commitment Index Score is measured as of a specific point in time (in this case, January 11, 2016). 

Commitment Index (2017+)
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts$32,983,635
Fully Guaranteed Salary$3,302,633
Current Cap Space($18,380,314)
Net Commitment$17,905,954
Commitment Index Score104%
League Rank (1st = Most Committed)17th


Offseason Plan

The one good thing that often comes out of back to back years of tip toeing around the salary cap and having one big name player come off the books is that at some point you begin to feel cap relief and that’s exactly what the Lions are feeling now. They are back to being in an average salary cap situation where they are free to make decisions as they see fit for the team. The trick for them is to maintain their newfound cap flexibility especially since Stafford may be just one year away from an extension which will cost the team over $20 million a year. The Lions also need that cap room in the event Calvin Johnson cuts his retirement short this summer. If he were to do that the Lions would need to have $16 million in space to take on his salary.

The Lions focus of the offseason probably needs to center on their offensive line. While they have some draft capital invested on the line, you could argue that they need to improve at every position on the line.  If you ranked them, right tackle is going to be the top priority since they don’t even have a potential solution in place. The highest paid right tackle will end up being Mitchell Schwartz and he may be too expensive for a team like the Lions looking to stabilize their cap, but they should at least consider it. Joe Barksdale was a player they didn’t seem to show interest in last year, but a new group in charge could change that. Chris Clark and Andre Smith might also be names that could be thrown around.

They should also be able to find a decent guard in free agency, whether they look at players who were released like Jahri Evans or free agents like Jeff Allen and Ramon Foster.  If they are committed to former draft picks competing for the interior, which they probably are not given the organizational changes, then looking at low cost veterans like Willie Colon, Geoff Schwartz, and Lyle Sendlein to compete at guard and center makes sense.

With Johnson retiring there are going to be many people saying that receiver is now a top need. While I agree that leaves a big hole it is always difficult to be the person who replaces a legend for a team.  Free agency doesn’t have the talent unless Alshon Jeffery is available. Everyone else will never live up to any role where he is being compared with Johnson.  They could draft a receiver but they are better off picking in a spot where expectations may not be so high.

Defensively expect the team to look for a safety even if Abdul-Quddus is back. The free agent group is too deep to just bypass the position. George Iloka or Mark Barron would give them more of an in the middle presence while a Walter Thurmond type could function in a coverage role.

There could be a good group of defensive tackles available in both free agency and the draft. The top names will be Damon Harrison, Jaye Howard, and Ian Williams. Veterans like Steve McLendon, BJ Raji, Henry Melton, and Al Woods could all help as situational players to improve the gut of the defense. If they don’t sign someone in free agency drafting should be a big consideration. Other needs like linebacker will most likely be addressed in the draft.

The Lions come across as a team that’s going to be stuck in that middle of the pack rut for a while. They aren’t so bad that you look at them and say they can justify starting over completely, but they also don’t have the talent that makes you think they are close to making a big leap forward. The Lions are basically exactly what the NFL wants the league to be- a team that has enough to avoid being awful while also being one that can be a surprise playoff entrant.  How their offseason turns out will probably be the deciding factor as to which of the two categories they wind up in.

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