The George Johnson restricted free agent saga surprisingly came to a close on Wednesday with the Detroit Lions trading him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Instead of continuing to dispute the offer sheet, simply matching the original offer or simply declining to match the original offer, the Lions ended up pulling off a trade. What exactly does this deal mean for the Lions going forward? Here are three main things to keep in mind:
Extra cap space
When the Lions tendered Johnson at the original-round level, he had a $1.542 million cap charge for 2015 despite never actually signing the tender. That number went out the window once he signed an offer sheet with the Buccaneers, but only now is his tender officially off the books. As a result, the Lions have now freed up slightly more than $1 million in cap space with the tender being removed from their top 51 contracts. This should give them more than $5 million in cap space going into the NFL Draft.
Improved draft position
Speaking of the draft, the Lions swapped picks with the Buccaneers as part of the Johnson trade. Specifically, they gave up the seventh-rounder they acquired as part of the Haloti Ngata deal and got a fifth-rounder in return. Essentially, by trading away Johnson, the Lions turned the 231st overall pick into the 168th overall pick. That's an improvement of 63 spots.
A hole to fill at defensive end
Considering Johnson had 29 tackles and 6.0 sacks last season, the Lions now have a hole to fill at defensive end with him departing. The good news is that the Lions have some candidates to fill that hole already on their roster. Devin Taylor should have a bigger role going forward, for example, as should Larry Webster, who didn't play at all during his rookie season despite having a pretty solid preseason. The Lions also have Phillip Hunt, who was signed earlier in the offseason and has drawn some comparisons to Johnson.
Unless the Lions go out and sign a free agent or spend a top draft pick on a defensive end, they really just need one of their own players to have a Johnson-like transformation this offseason. When Johnson first joined the Lions around this time a year ago, he was viewed as nothing more than a camp body. As the offseason progressed, however, Johnson played his way on to the roster, and he later played his way into the rotation. He went from being a no-name camp body to being a solid player in a very short time frame, and now he just signed a three-year deal worth $9 million.
It's been a pretty remarkable journey for Johnson, and the Lions will be hoping a player like Taylor, Webster or Hunt makes a similar jump this offseason. Their starting spots at defensive end are already set with Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones, and they already have a veteran backup in Darryl Tapp. They could use another defensive end to really step it up this year, though, and there is now playing time available with Johnson joining the Buccaneers.