This offseason the Detroit Lions got themselves a new salary cap guy. It’s a move that most football fans won’t care about, but one that could have a big impact on the team itself behind the scenes. Gone is Matt Harriss, in is Mike Disner. The Lions have already signed a few contracts with Disner as their Vice President of Football Administration, but the Lions’ two-year deal with Romeo Okwara highlights what Disner’s experience as an NFL Management Council Labor Operations Manager and Coordinator brings to the team.
On the surface, Okwara’s deal looks pretty ordinary. The Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett was the first one in on the details:
Okwara will make $3.6M this year, with a chance to earn another $500k in bonuses, so it essentially splits the first- and second-round tender, with a chance to make 1st-round tender money if he plays well.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) March 7, 2019
Alone, this would be a pretty friendly deal for the Lions. It would break down something like this:
2019 cap hit: $2.2475 million
2020 cap hit: $4.2525 million ($1,352,000 dead cap)
That’s a lower cap hit than the Lions would have incurred had they given Okwara a second-round restricted free agent tender ($3.095 million). Additionally, it would make it pretty easy for the Lions to back out of the second year, freeing up $2.9 million in cap space if Detroit were to cut him.
However, there’s more to this contract. According to Over The Cap (and confirmed by the NFLPA report), there is actually a third year on the contract that automatically voids itself in 2021 shortly after the Super Bowl. You can read more about what an automatically-voided year is here, but the short-term version of it is that it allows the Lions to spread out Okwara’s $2.705 million signing bonus over three years instead of two. That lowers both his 2019 and 2020 cap hits by about $450,000 each year, so Okwara will cost just under $1.8 million against the cap this season.
Over The Cap has a nice breakdown of the entire contract below:
The cost of doing something like this is that Detroit will be on the hook for about $900,000 in dead cap in that third automatically voided season. In other words, the Lions are saving money now, and more willing to pay that exact amount later, when the cap has presumably grown. It makes sense because the same $900,000 figure will be a lower percentage of the (presumably) increased 2021 cap.
This move also suggests that the Lions are trying to get every single penny in savings they can for the 2019 season, perhaps because they plan on making some big moves. Either way, it’s an interesting new loophole the Lions are deploying and likely part of the reason the Lions made a change in salary cap gurus this year.