Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: $23.9 million
Expected 2016 Cap Space: $41.7 million
According to an ESPN report by Adam Schefter, Calvin Johnson has informed the Detroit Lions that he plans to retire rather than return for the 2016 season. The Lions were likely going to have to make a difficult decision anyway on Johnson this year due to a $24 million cap charge but he may have made it easier on them by walking away. So what happens next to the Lions salary cap? I’ll explain the ins and outs of how a retirement works after the jump plus look at a conspriacy theory as to a unique way to use a retirement to leverage a better contract. Continue reading What Happens When Calvin Johnson Retires »
Players Under Contract: 54
Pro Bowlers: 3
Unrestricted Free Agents: 19(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 23
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.
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.
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.
In the first part of our series we looked at the percentage of a Super Bowl Champions salary cap that was spent on the top players on their team. In part two we looked at positional spending on the Super Bowl Champions. Now we turn our focus to the 2014 NFL season and see just what teams are built like a champion and which teams are not.
Six NFL teams are spending more on one player than any team that had ever won a Super Bowl in the salary cap era, which was set by the 1994 49ers at 13.1%. Those teams are the Lions, Giants, Steelers, Bears, Saints, and Rams. All but the Lions have their cap money spent on the quarterback position, which is normal. The Lions money is spent on a defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. Only one SB champ spent the most cap dollars on that position.
The lowest amount of spending was done by the 2000 Ravens at just 6.7%. Seven teams will be under that mark this season. Those teams are the Eagles, Jaguars, Bengals, Titans, Colts, Raiders, and the 49ers, who surprisingly have the lowest spend on a top player in the entire NFL.
The teams who fall closest to the average are the Seahawks, Cowboys, Jets, Cardinals, Redskins, and Chiefs. What is somewhat surprising is that of that group just the Cardinals have the most money spent on the QB position. The Cowboys, Jets, and Redskins have their money tied into positions that have been the top charges on a team before. The other three do not, though the Seahawks set a new mark last year when they won a Super Bowl with a tight end as their top cap position.
The Lions are in a different universe when it comes to top heavy spending in 2014, with 38.6% tied up in their top 3 players. The next closest team is the Rams with 30.9%, though a big chunk of that is already on injured reserve. The top spending on the cap by a Super Bowl winner was done by the 2002 Buccaneers at 27.8%. The Lions, Rams, Steelers, Ravens, Saints, and Giants are all above that level. Our low spending champion was again the 2000 Ravens at just 17.4%. In 2014 the Jaguars, Eagles, Raiders, 49ers, and Colts are all below that figure.
Our most average teams are the Bills, Cardinals, Falcons, Vikings, Browns, and Patriots, and Dolphins. Buffalo is one of those teams with a heavy portion of their spending not actually on the roster. Two of their top three cap charges are being spent on released/traded players- Stevie Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick. New England also has big money tied up in a released player with Aaron Hernandez carrying the second highest cap charge on the team. The Falcons and Cardinals have the most traditional breakdown by position of this group.
Our two top 5 extremes remain the same in the 2002 Bucs and the 2000 Ravens. Eight teams are currently spending more than those Buccaneers. The Lions, Rams, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Bears would all set a new high mark if they were to advance to a Super Bowl this season. The Titans, 49ers, Eagles, Jaguars, Colts, and Raiders would all set new low marks if they were to advance.
Our closest to average teams are the Chargers, Vikings, Bills, Browns, Falcons, and Patriots. Neither the Browns nor the Vikings have a QB make their top 5 in spending.
The Buccaneers and Ravens were again the two extremes as champions at 56% and 44.4% respectively. We have eight teams spending above 56% of their adjusted cap on the top 10 and seven spending below. The teams above are the Rams, Steelers, Texans, Lions, Bears, Ravens, Buccaneers, and Panthers. Those below are the Eagles, Colts, 49ers, Titans, Jets, Jaguars and Raiders.
The teams that would be closest to the average range are the Giants, Cardinals, Redskins, Browns, Bengals , Bills, and Falcons.
Three teams would set a new high in every category if they were to win the Super Bowl this year. Those teams are the Rams, Steelers, and Lions. From a salary cap perspective these would be the three most unlikely teams to advance to the Super Bowl. Five teams would set new lows in every category if they won the Super Bowl. Those teams are the Eagles, Colts, 49ers, Jaguars, and Raiders.
When we look at just three categories you can add the Bears, Ravens, and Saints to the high list and the Titans to the low list. The most average teams, which hit the average mark in 3 of the 4 categories, were the Cardinals, Browns, Bills, and Falcons. Of those teams the Cardinals and Falcons would have the most normal positional breakdowns and would also likely be considered to be the only ones with the talent to make the playoffs.
If we score each category by calculating the percentage below or above the average and then sum the values together we can get a better idea as to just how far away each team is from the average Super Bowl spending habits. Breaking it down per category the average NFL team score is an 18.5% difference from the average Super Bowl winner’s cap spending breakdown.
The Lions winning the Super Bowl would really be something extraordinary. They average 52.9% per category from the average. That’s nearly 3 times greater than the average and its 19.1% more than the next closest team. It’s a method of constructing a team that has simply never been successful in the NFL and they would be the first to ever do it. The Rams, Steelers, Raiders, and Ravens make up the remainder of the top 5 and the Giants, 49ers, Colts, Bears, and Saints round out the top 10 least likely winners.
The teams with the least percentage difference are the Cardinals, Vikings, Browns, Redskins, Patriots, Cowboys, and Seahawks. These teams exhibited less than 10% difference from the average per category. The Patriots and Seahawks are certainly favorites in the NFL. The Cowboys are a team that manages the cap on a year by year basis to help manipulate numbers which has them coming in pretty normal this season.
The following table will show the percentage of cap spent on each category and the average percentage difference per category. The table should sort itself if you click on the header.
|Team||% Cap Spending, Top Player||% Cap Spending, Top 3 Players||% Cap Spending, Top 5 Players||% Cap Spending, Top 10 Players||Avg. Percent Difference Per Category|
The Detroit Lions are one of the teams that I discussed being in desperate need for cap room, so it should come as no surprise that they have reworked the contract of one of their players for salary cap relief.
Safety Glover Quin converted $2.77 million of his base salary into a signing bonus that will be spread out over the remaining years of his contract. The move created about $2.08 million in much needed cap room for Detroit, who should have in the ballpark of $3.6 million in cap space for the start of the NFL season, which is still tight but reasonable.
The move will add salary cap charges of $692,500 to each remaining year of Quin’s contract. This restructure should effectively guarantee his roter status next season as his ead cap charge rises from $3.15 to $5.23 million, leaving the June 1 cut as the only realistic option if they needed to release him.
Hope everyone had a Happy 4th. Time to get back to our best and worst with a look at the Detroit Lions…
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.
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)
Since the draft you have probably heard me harp on the Detroit Lions not having enough cap room to sign their top draft pick Eric Ebron. Today they made the cap space needed to officially sign him by releasing CB Chris Houston just one season after signing him to a five year contract.
Houston was set to carry a $4.8 million cap charge and would have earned $3.5 million in salary for the season. Of that $3.5 million, $2 million is guaranteed for injury which may come into play since he was recovering from a football injury. There have been conflicting reports about an injury settlement that came with the release and here are the three scenarios in play:
1. The Lions could have cleared him and claim no responsibility for the $2 million guarantee. Houston would in turn file a grievance which would see $800,000 immediately count against the salary cap.
2. The Lions simply paid him the full $2 million to go away
3. The sides reached an injury settlement likely for an amount in between the $0 and $2 million. This protects Houston from fully rehabbing and then being cut and collecting nothing.
Whatever number is used it will be part of the cap charge for Houston this season. He will definitely carry a $1.3 million cap charge in 2014 and $3.9 million cap charge in 2015 from the unaccounted for prorated money from a $6.5 million signing bonus he received in 2013. If there is no settlement or grievance the Lions will have gained $3.5 million in cap space in 2014. If the injury payment was made in full they would gain $1.5 million in cap space.
Houston earned $7.5 million for the one year of his contract he played out.