The Detroit Lions are officially on the clock when it comes to restricted free agent George Johnson. After visiting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, Johnson signed an offer sheet with them on Tuesday night, according to Scott Smith. No details are out yet about the salary or structure of the contract, but Mike Garafolo reports that it's a three-year deal.
The Lions now have five days to decide whether they want to match the offer sheet and retain Johnson or decline to match the offer sheet and let him join the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, no compensation will be awarded if the Lions let Johnson walk. This is because he was tendered at the original-round level by the Lions. He originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent -- with the Buccaneers, fittingly -- so all the Lions get is the right to match his offer sheet.
Really, this will come down to how much money is in Johnson's deal, and more importantly, how much he is set to count against the cap in 2015. The Lions have around $4 million in cap space right now, so Tampa Bay could really force Detroit's hand by structuring Johnson's contract so his cap hit equals or exceeds that number in Year 1. The Lions could always restructure a player's contract to free up enough cap space for Johnson, but that would be less than ideal.
In the grand scheme of things, the Lions will simply have to determine whether it's worthwhile to retain Johnson on the contract he received from Tampa Bay. After all, Johnson had basically no production in the NFL from 2010-13. He only started producing once he got to Detroit last season, and it's not like the Lions are lacking depth at defensive end. They had an overflow of depth last year, and with or without Johnson, that will likely be the case again this year.
In hindsight, the Lions really would have been better off just giving Johnson a second-round tender. It would have cost them $2.356 million instead of $1.542 million, but the difference in price is pretty minimal when you consider that no teams likely would have pursued him with a second-round pick required to sign him. At the time, the Lions likely felt that they needed every little bit of cap space, but now they're on the verge of losing Johnson, and they won't get anything in return if his offer sheet isn't matched.