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What's the deal with George Johnson's offer sheet?

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Why exactly are the Detroit Lions disputing the offer sheet that George Johnson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It all revolves around de-escalators that are present in the contract.

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There was a lot of confusion on Monday when news broke about the Detroit Lions contesting restricted free agent George Johnson's offer sheet with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Was there a "poison pill" included in the contract? Did the Lions want the deal to be voided so Johnson would revert back to them on his original-round tender? Were they just trying to delay the process for some reason? There were a lot of question marks surrounding this move.

Fast forward a couple of days and the situation is now much clearer. According to Pro Football Talk, the Lions simply contested the offer sheet to clarify what "principal terms" they would have to match should they go that route. Specifically, they want clarification on de-escalators that are included in the offer sheet. From PFT:

The Johnson offer sheet contains salary de-escalators, and the Lions want to know whether they must match the three-year, $9 million offer that could shrink to $7 million or the three-year, $7 million offer after de-escalators apply. The move reflects a prudent reading of the CBA, since a de-escalator constitutes a variable payment — and since the terms of the labor deal don’t specifically state that a payment of this type must be matched in order to match the offer sheet.

It boils down to this: Johnson's first-year cap hit is $2.75 million no matter what. What's unclear is what his future cap hits will be thanks to the de-escalators:

Basically, the Lions want to know what deal they would be getting if they decide to match the offer. If the independent arbitrator rules that the deal has to be matched as is, then the Lions would be taking on $9 million over three years, although that number could be de-escalated down the road. If the arbitrator rules that the Lions only have to match the $7 million version of the contract, however, then bringing back Johnson would make a bit more sense.

In any case, the simple fact that the Lions decided to seek clarification on the deal seemingly indicates that they have interest in bringing back Johnson. No matter what the arbitrator rules, matching the offer will result in Johnson being paid more than if the Lions had simply given him a second-round tender, but the flip side is they now have an opportunity to lock him up for the next three seasons instead of just one. I suppose that's the silver lining of all this if they ultimately end up matching the deal to keep Johnson in Detroit.