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Detroit Lions 2016 cap space analysis

A breakdown of the player cap hits as they stand before free agency, including an estimation of the projected cap space commitments.

Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

With free agency coming up, it's a good time to step back and take a look at the team. Last week I broke down the current roster and positions. This week, I want to look at the Detroit Lions' cap status, where resources are currently allocated, which positions can have cuts to generate cap space and what the options are for free agency.

I am not exploring what I think should or will be done. Some of that will be addressed in subsequent articles.

All contract details come from Spotrac.

Cap Hit by Player and Position

Note: The dead money section will show the cap hit that the Lions would take, if they cut the player. For a number of players, the dead money is greater than their listed cap hit this year. For these players, their savings will just say Full.

Name Position Cap Hit Dead Money Full Cut Savings
Calvin Johnson WR $24,008,000 -$12,916,000 $11,092,000
Matthew Stafford QB $22,500,000 -$11,000,000 $11,500,000
Riley Reiff LT $8,070,000 $0 $8,070,000
DeAndre Levy OLB $7,650,000 -$9,600,000 Null
Glover Quin FS $7,577,500 -$5,655,000 $1,922,500
Golden Tate WR $7,101,250 -$7,053,750 $47,500
Ezekiel Ansah DE $5,916,439 -$5,916,439 Null
Brandon Pettigrew TE $4,650,000 -$2,000,000 $2,650,000
Eric Ebron TE $3,340,676 -$6,438,131 Null
Matt Prater K $3,175,000 -$500,000 $2,675,000
Laken Tomlinson G $1,943,237 -$5,394,711 Null
Larry Warford G $1,845,250 -$174,250 $1,671,000
Darius Slay CB $1,682,960 -$556,691 $1,126,269
Kyle Van Noy OLB $1,391,482 -$1,015,310 $376,172
Josh Bynes OLB $1,025,000 -$125,000 $900,000
Don Carey SS $1,010,000 -$200,000 $810,000
Ameer Abdullah RB $944,574 -$1,535,892 Null
Travis Swanson C $794,868 -$309,736 $485,132
Devin Taylor DE $750,146 -$75,146 $675,000
Alex Carter CB $727,186 -$516,561 $210,625
Sam Martin P $715,075 -$40,075 $675,000
Theo Riddick RB $697,750 -$22,750 $675,000
Nevin Lawson CB $675,146 -$150,292 $524,854
Gabe Wright DT $655,288 -$390,864 $264,424
Caraun Reid DT $647,220 -$94,440 $552,780
TJ Jones WR $626,550 -$53,100 $573,450
Cornelius Lucas RT $606,668 -$6,668 $600,000
Jerry Franklin OLB $600,000 $0 $600,000
Khaseem Greene OLB $600,000 $0 $600,000
Gabe Ikard C $600,000 $0 $600,000
Michael Ola G $600,000 $0 $600,000
Michael Burton FB $571,089 -$138,267 $432,822
Quandre Diggs CB $553,838 $0 $553,838
Corey Robinson LT $539,477 -$43,431 $496,046
Zach Zenner RB $526,666 -$3,334 $523,332
Ryan Spadola WR $525,000 $0 $525,000
Corey Washington WR $525,000 $0 $525,000
Kerry Hyder DT $450,000 $0 $450,000
Darren Keyton C $450,000 $0 $450,000
Casey Pierce TE $450,000 $0 $450,000
Jordan Thompson TE $450,000 $0 $450,000
Tyrus Thompson T $450,000 $0 $450,000
Austin Willis WR $450,000 $0 $450,000
Lamar Holmes RT - $0 $0

Cap Commitments

Category Cap Hit
Total Active Contracts $119,068,335
Total Dead Money $3,035,294
Total Cap Commitments $122,103,629

Please note that the category was named, "Full cut savings", rather than "Full cap savings". That's because it is only determining how much the cap savings would be if the player were cut. It does not account for potential restructures, re-signings or contract extensions.

Broken down by position

Position Group

Number of Players

Total Cap Hit

Total Cut Relief Available

Quarterback

1

$22,500,000

$11,500,000

Wide Receivers

6

$33,235,800

$13,212,950

Running Backs

4

$2,740,079

$1,631,154

Tight Ends

4

$8,890,676

$3,550,000

Offensive Tackle

5

$9,666,145

$9,616,046

Offensive Guard

3

$4,388,487

$2,271,000

Center

3

$1,844,868

$1,535,132

Defensive Tackle

3

$1,752,508

$1,267,204

Defensive End

2

$6,666,585

$675,000

Outside Linebacker

5

$11,266,482

$2,476,172

Inside Linebacker

0

$0

$0

Safety

2

$8,587,500

$2,732,500

Cornerback

4

$3,639,130

$2,415,586

Special Teams

2

$3,890,075

$3,350,000


Cap space overview

Total Cap Commitments

Salary Cap

Projected Cap Space

$122,103,629

$155,270,000

$33,166,371


Cap notes

  1. The dead cap of $3 million comes primarily from two players: Stephen Tulloch and Joique Bell. While they accrue $2.3 million in combined cap hit this year, cutting them saved about $8.5 million in cap space.

  2. There are only 37 players on the roster who cost over $500,000, and they combine for over $116 million of the cap space.

  3. After this year, the only veterans with a significant amount of dead cap are DeAndre Levy, Golden Tate, and Glover Quin.

  4. Of the players with the top 11 cap hits in 2016, 10 are signed through 2017 (including Ansah's fifth year option). However, only 5 are signed through 2018 (including Ebron's fifth year option), and one of them is Calvin Johnson.

The rookie cap space

Every team has to set aside enough cap space for their rookies. A lot depends on where the players actually get drafted, so it is impossible to say exactly how much space the Lions will spend on rookies.

That said, we can estimate that the Lions will spend approximately $6 million on about eight draft picks. Last year's estimate was $5.5 million for eight, and it came out to about $4.4 million for six. Because this post is being used to create a projection of the free agency budget there will be significant padding built into the estimate.

Estimating the "lower class" budget

There are 44 players currently signed to contracts that aren't Reserve/Futures contracts. That means that with just over $33 million in cap space available, there is an average of $3.7 million per player, to sign nine players.

Next, this will look at how the "lower class" of the Detroit Lions generally runs by year. It's a good first step in figuring out how much is available for the "upper class" (a Suh-like signing) and "middle class" (a Tate-like signing).

Year

less than $600k

$600k-$1.2 million

more than $1.2 million

2011

17

19

27

2012

23

16

31

2013

26

17

21

2014

26

14

21

2015

26

17

21

2016

12

17

14


Of course, those numbers were only illustrative for Martin Mayhew. Since we now have Bob Quinn it's also worth looking at how the Patriots distributed their personnel. Quinn wasn't in charge of the cap management there, so there's no telling how much this will impact his management of the Lions, but the philosophy involved could still be quite relevant.

Year

less than $600k

$600k-$1.2 million

more than $1.2 million

2011

28

16

23

2012

30

22

23

2013

28

16

20

2014

28

12

23

2015

22

18

26


While the Lions generally kept pretty static (26 "lower class", 14-17 "middle class" and 21 "upper class"), the Patriots were more erratic, though they tended to have more in the "middle" and "upper" class.

While we can expect some shuffling in terms of the specific personnel for estimating purposes, we can assume that there will be at least 10-16 players signed for $600k or less. Some will just be swapped in the re-shuffling, like players on futures contracts at $450k being replaced by cheap vets at $500k or by UDFAs and low-drafted rookies. For the purposes of this article, that doesn't matter. We are overestimating the average cost to help build in a buffer and just give us a general idea of what's possible.

Based on past drafting experience we can estimate 6-7 rookies in the "lower class", 1 in the "middle class" and 1 in the "upper class". That leaves space for 3-10 more free agent "lower class" signings. Obviously not every rookie will end up on the 53-man roster (or under the 51-man cap hit). However they are acquired, they will cost the same, which we are going to estimate at $550k.

Estimating the free agent budget

Throughout the NFL season, new players have to be added for various reasons. Some players get injured, some underperform and some enter the year on PUP. Between all of those factors, the Lions and Patriots have averaged about 66 players total under contract throughout a given year.

Between the currently signed players (44) and the "lower class" signings expected (around 14), that leaves approximately 11 players to be signed over $600k. With the two rookies over $600k, that's about nine free agents to be added that aren't lower class.

From the initial $33.2 million, the lower class and rookie signings will take up about $10.6 million, leaving $22.6 million for the remaining 6 free agents. That averages out to roughly 3-4 million per free agent signing. While there will be 90 players on the roster in the offseason, only the top-51 contracts count against the cap. While they will be on the roster, it doesn't impact these calculations.

Possible Breakdowns

That $22.6 million across 6 free agents can be split a number of ways depending on a variety of factors. It will depend on who is available, the team's valuation for those players, the team's priorities, and their assessments of the players currently on the roster.

The idea here is to give a few different possible distributions of the free agency budget. These breakdowns are given by the cap hit for the first year. Subsequent years are not considered a factor, in this.

Scenario

$1-$2 million

$2-4.5 million

$4.5-7.5 million

$7.5+ million

#1

2

2

2

0

#2

0

5

0

1

#3

2

0

4

0

#4

2

1

2

1

#5

3

1

0

2


The first one I want to go over is scenario #3. This would be a couple of lower-paid free agents, with a number of higher-paid, significant signings. Likely, though, it will not contain any players with significant national name recognition. From looking at the distribution of Patriots contracts, this would be very much in keeping with their philosophy, as they are usually filled out with $4.5-7.5 million cap hits. This would allow for them to aggressively pursue some younger, long-term players with a solid floor, and high potential. Examples from the Lions would be players like Stephen Tulloch, Glover Quin and Golden Tate.

The next one that would match a very "Patriots" distribution would be scenario #5. When the New England Patriots don't have many in the $4.5-7.5 million range, they tend to have a few more around $7.5-10 million. This is usually only the case if they are pursuing a well-established younger player. It would also be a complete change in philosophy for the Detroit Lions, who haven't signed a free agent for more than $7.5 million per year since 2011. From last year, that would be players like Mike Iupati, Jeremy Maclin or Rodney Hudson. It also allows them to gamble on a free agent who is either further on in their career, is younger and has flashed potential but not established themselves, or who has shown a limit to how well they play. Examples of these from the Lions would be Chris Houston, Cliff Avril and Jason Jones.

The other distributions in there are just to show some other configurations for spending the free agent budget.

Examples

I've provided examples from the Lions since 2011 for each category, and examples from last year for each category. You can use these examples to get an idea of the different kinds of players that the Detroit Lions could pursue in free agency. You can match those with the table above (or your own configuration) to get an idea of what kinds of combinations the Lions could choose to build.

Feel free to check back at the Roster and Positional Overview to see what kinds of needs exist on the current roster.

These are given by average, per year.

  • $1-$2 million Lions' signings: 2011 (Andre Fluellen, Dylan Gandy), 2012 (Lawrence Jackson, Corey Hilliard, DeAndre Levy, Drayton Florence, Sammie Lee Hill, Corey Hilliard), 2013 (CJ Mosley, Montell Owens, Louis Delmas, Jason Fox,Willie Young), 2014 (James Ihedigbo, Rashean Mathis)
  • $2-$4.5 million Lions' signings: 2011 (Chris Houston, Justin Durant, Cliff Avril, Eric Wright), 2012 (Shaun Hill, Jeff Backus), 2013 (Reggie Bush, Jason Jones), 2014 (Joique Bell, Brandon Pettigrew).
  • $4.5-7.5 million Lions' signings: 2012 (Stephen Tulloch), 2013 (Glover Quin, Chris Houston), 2014 (Golden Tate)
  • $7.5+ million Lions' signings: None

From around the NFL last year:

  • $1-$2 million: Darren McFadden/DeAngelo Williams/Chris Johnson (RB), Charles Tillman (CB), B.J. Raji (DT), Jake Long (LT), Marshall Newhouse/Joe Barksdale (RT), Chris Cook (CB), Nate Washington (WR), George Selvie (DE)
  • $2-$4.5 million: Kendall Langford (DE), Rahim Moore (FS), C.J. Spiller (RB), Antrel Rolle (SS), Henry Melton/Corey Peters (DT), Malcolm Smith/Justin Durant/Rolando McClain (ILB), Shaun Hill (QB), Walter Thurmond (FS), Michael Crabtree (WR), Erik Pears (RT), Scott Chandler (TE)
  • $4.5-$7.5 million: Jermey Parnell (RT), Derrick Morgan (OLB), Nate Allen (FS), Marcus Gilchrist/Ron Parker (SS), Jabaal Sheard (DE), Dan Williams (DT), Clint Boling (G)
  • $7.5+ million: Darrelle Revis (CB), Jeremy Maclin (WR), Rodney Hudson (C), Mike Iupati (G), Charles Clay (TE)

Conclusion

Right now, the Lions have $33,166,371 in cap space. We can estimate that, over the course of the year, they will add about 14 lower class players (between draftees, UDFAs, and low-cost vets). That, in combination with the entire draft class and significant buffer, gives the Detroit Lions a functional cap space of approximately $22.6 million. They have ways they can increase this, through personnel changes listed at the top and ways they can spend this in free agency.

Obviously this is just a rough outline. The goal here was to give an example of what shape the roster may take, what kinds of players can be signed during free agency and what kind of options the Detroit Lions have after committing to a player.