The Detroit Lions are heading into the 2014 offseason with a limited amount of cap space. This is nothing new for the Lions, and Ndamukong Suh's monster $22.4 million cap hit (the result of restructuring his deal multiple times in the past) is a big reason behind their lack of space.
The good news for the Lions is that they can easily create quite a bit of cap space. Getting Suh a new deal would help lower his cap hit for 2014, and simply parting ways with certain players would also generate quite a bit of cap room for the Lions. Last year, for example, they released both Stephen Peterman and Kyle Vanden Bosch shortly after the Super Bowl.
Who might be let go this year? Below, with a big assist from Over the Cap, is a look at some potential Lions cap casualties for this offseason (2014 cap hits are listed in parentheses).
RB Mikel Leshoure ($1,092,693)
Leshoure wouldn't really be a cap casualty in the traditional sense. A $1.09 million cap hit isn't that notable, but Leshoure barely even played last season. He was a part of only three games and carried the ball a whopping two times all year. There's no point in keeping him around if he's never going to play. He should be given a chance to join a team that will actually give him an opportunity to see the field, and the Lions could save $843,297 in cap space by simply letting him go. Yes, they could always wait and try to trade him, but he's set to get a $148,297 roster bonus and another $50,000 via a workout bonus.
RB Montell Owens ($1,330,000)
Considering he briefly appeared in all of one game last year and had two stints on injured reserve in 2013 alone, Owens was a top candidate to be cut before he took a pay cut. He lowered his cap number to $1.33 million for 2014, and by having his deal restructured, the Lions seem inclined to keep Owens around. Then again, with a $100,000 roster bonus, a $50,000 workout bonus and up to another $200,000 coming his way depending on how many games he plays in 2014, I suppose the Lions could always decide to let him go anyway since cutting him would create $1.2 million in cap space.
WR Nate Burleson ($7,531,645)
There is a 0.0% chance that Burleson will go into the 2014 season with a $7.5 million cap hit. His production from last season simply doesn't warrant that, and Burleson has already said that he's willing to take a pay cut. He took one last year to remain on the team, and his $5.5 million salary will have to be greatly reduced this year if he wants to stick around. Yes, the Lions could save that $5.5 million by just releasing him, but there's no real sense in doing that since he's open to restructuring his contract. In all likelihood, he will take a pay cut and the Lions will plan on keeping him around for 2014.
OT Corey Hilliard ($1,900,000)
Hilliard is set to get a $350,000 roster bonus and a $15,000 workout bonus this year, and cutting him would free up $1.65 million in cap space. With LaAdrian Waddle set to be the starting right tackle going forward, perhaps the Lions could deem Hilliard expendable. It doesn't seem likely, though. Hilliard is the Lions' top backup at offensive tackle, and he's the only non-starter currently under contract at the position. He started seven games last season, and he definitely brings some value as a backup on the offensive line. Plus, he spent a couple years in Indianapolis when Jim Caldwell was there as an assistant, so he's got a past connection to the Lions' new head coach.
OG Rob Sims ($3,775,000)
Sims is entering the final year of his deal and is set to get a $375,000 roster bonus. Cutting him would free up $2.6 million in cap space, but it would also add starting left guard to the Lions' list of needs. Yes, the Lions cut their starting right guard last year, and Sims did have a bit of a down year in 2013. However, he was one of the Lions' top offensive linemen in 2012, and I just can't see them parting ways with Sims just to save $2.6 million in cap space.
C Leroy Harris ($2,062,500)
The Lions added Harris last year as veteran depth for the interior of the offensive line. He did provide veteran depth, but he was only a part of one game all year. The Lions didn't need him in hindsight, and he certainly doesn't seem to be worth keeping around this year when cutting him would free up $1.95 million in cap space. Perhaps the Lions will wait on deciding on Harris with Dominic Raiola set to become a free agent, but Harris is due a $100,000 roster bonus, and it seems inevitable that he will either be released or forced to take a pay cut.
DE Jason Jones ($3,683,333)
Jones was brought in last offseason after previously playing for Jim Schwartz in Tennessee. Jones played in only three games last season for the Lions before suffering a season-ending injury (a ruptured patellar tendon), and Schwartz is obviously no longer with the Lions. Might Jones be on the chopping block as a result? It's possible since cutting Jones would save the Lions $2 million in cap space, but with Willie Young hitting free agency, it's not like there is a ton of depth at defensive end. Much like with Sims, cutting Jones over such a limited amount of savings probably wouldn't be worthwhile.
S Louis Delmas ($6,500,000)
With Burleson expected to stick around by taking a pay cut, Delmas is by far the most notable potential cap casualty for the Lions. He re-signed with the team last offseason by taking an incentive-laden contract, and he ended up playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career. He put together some strong performances, but his play was generally pretty inconsistent.
Delmas is set to have a $5.5 million base salary in 2014 (with another $500,000 coming his way via a roster bonus), and that just seems a bit beyond his level of production from 2013. Could the Lions try to get him to take a pay cut? Sure. But Delmas received some interest as a free agent last year, and I can't imagine he would take less money just to stay in Detroit. Simply cutting him would create a need at safety for the Lions, but $6 million in cap savings might be too much to pass up.
As you can see, the Lions have a lot of options to create cap space. Expect Burleson to take a pay cut to remain on the team, and it wouldn't be surprising if guys like Leshoure, Harris and Delmas are let go to free up some space. It would be a surprise if the Lions cut players like Hilliard, Sims and Jones, and considering he just took a pay cut, I suppose it would be surprising if Owens is let go. Regardless, expect the Lions to make multiple moves this offseason as they work to create cap space.
(One other note: Don't expect cornerback Chris Houston to be released. Yes, he had a rough 2013 season and is set to have a $4.8 million cap hit this year, but cutting him would actually result in the Lions losing $400,000 in cap space. He's not going anywhere.)