It’s been two weeks since the Detroit Lions officially released nose tackle Damon Harrison Sr., and there still aren’t many answers as to why the two parties split. Harrison called the release a “mutual” parting and has made some not-so-subtle indications that he was happy to be free from the team, while also making sure to express his respect and appreciation for Lions head coach Matt Patricia.
From the Lions’ perspective, however, it never made a ton of sense. Though Harrison had a down year by his own lofty standards, he still has plenty of value, especially to a team that prioritizes stopping the run as much as the Lions do. Detroit clearly believed in Harrison, as evidenced by the one-year contract extension they handed the nose tackle prior to the 2019 season.
However, Harrison provided a little more clarity on Twitter this week, noting that the fit wasn’t good in Detroit and that extension may not be what it appeared to be on the surface:
The people of Detroit are amazing and forever a part of me. The Detroit lions just wasn’t a good fit for me so I had to move on. The extension wasn’t what y’all think it was. I’ll speak more on it when I retire..no need to now. My teammates know what happened https://t.co/md8rvyZoA5— Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) March 11, 2020
“The extension wasn’t what y’all think it was,” Harrison said before promising he’ll speak more on the situation after he’s retired.
Looking at the details of his extension, some of what Harrison may be implying can be seen.
Here’s what Harrison’s contract looked like before the extension:
2019: $6.75 million base salary, no bonuses
2020: $9 million, $250,000 workout bonus
Now here are those figures after the extension
2019: $7.5 million signing bonus, $1 million base salary (guaranteed), up to $500,000 in roster bonuses
2020: $8.5 million base salary ($3.5 million guaranteed for injury only), $250,000 workout bonus, up to $500,000 in roster bonuses.
2021 (team option): $8.5 million base salary, $500,000 in roster bonuses
The biggest benefit for Harrison was that he basically got $8.5 million guaranteed for 2019 (signing bonus + guaranteed salary), when his previous base salary would’ve paid just $6.75 million (non guaranteed).
However, after that, there wasn’t much in it for Harrison. Even if he had stayed in Detroit in 2020, his base salary would have actually decreased for this season, and the only way he would’ve made up that money was to hit all of his bonuses. The new deal did provide him with a little bit of security seeing as $3.5 million was guaranteed for injury, but with his release prior to the new league year, he didn’t end up seeing that.
As for the additional year in 2021, it’s quite likely he never would have seen that money ever. It was a team option, and Harrison would be 32 entering that season. With a cap hit of $11.5 million, it seems unlikely the Lions would’ve exercised that option, even if Harrison’s play was still top of the line. The dead money for Detroit would have only been $2.5 million.
In essence, the only thing Harrison’s extension did was turn his 2019 salary into a roster bonus, while adding just $1.75 million to his overall pay—plus the potential of $500,00 more in roster bonuses. And while getting that money into his pocket immediately is beneficial to most players—especially with Harrison, who had no guaranteed money remaining in his contract—it did very little to secure his job long term.
We don’t know for sure if this is what caused Harrison and Detroit to mutually part or if this is what made the Lions a bad fit for Snacks, but it sounds like he’ll make it all crystal clear in due time.
UPDATE: Well, Snacks basically confirmed all of this: