The Detroit Lions cleared around $8.5 million in cap space last week by releasing a trio of players. The moves not only got the Lions under the projected salary cap, but they gave them some cap room to work with as well. This will especially be important when free agency begins next month, but it was really just the first step in clearing cap room.
What remains to be seen at this point is just how many additional moves the Lions will make in order to give themselves more cap space. They could extend Matthew Stafford's contract to free up cap space, and they could also release additional players. A lot will depend on how the offseason develops and what plans they put together for free agency. Lions president Tom Lewand said as much this week, noting that "the cap is fluid." From the Lions' official site:
"The optimal range is dependent on the opportunities that exist, not just on the cap space available," Lewand said. "You’ve got to look at what possible methods of player acquisition are in front of you, what players are available to be acquired, how they fit your system, all of the different things that are involved in the complexity of the system and marry that up to what your available cap room is."
What Lewand is saying is that there's no sense in clearing space just so you can get a certain amount under the cap. Why? Well, just because you have cap space doesn't mean opportunities will come along in free agency to use it all in a wise way. It wouldn't be smart to go out and clear a bunch of room without an idea of what you can actually use the money on.
The Lions are in a situation this year where improving via free agency is going to be necessary. That doesn't mean they will be able to go out and break the bank with various big-name free agents, though. It also doesn't mean they will go on a spending spree with various low-profile free agents. How much cap space they need will be dictated by what free agents make sense for them to sign. Since this can be tough to predict, we may not see the Lions make more moves to clear cap space until free agency actually begins.