While many of us simply react to the initial numbers of free agent contracts—which typically only convey the average salary per year—it’s really the less-interesting details of the contract that matter. Guarantees, cap hits and dead money are all decided by how the contracts are structures beyond salary, and that is what will ultimately dictate how an NFL team manages their cap room.
As some of these new deals become official on Wednesday when the league turns over a new year, details of the previously-agreed-upon contracts are starting to emerge for the Detroit Lions.
Let’s take a look at them, and see what we can truly expect from both the players and the entirety of their deals.
Original reported deal: Five years, $50 million
Details reported by Aaron Wilson:
Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Lions), five years, $45M, $20M gtd, $7M signing bonus, salaries $4M (gtd), $9M (gtd), $6.5M, $8.9M, $8.9M; $500K playtime incentive 2024, $1.5M playtime base escalator 2023; up to $3M playtime base escalator 2024— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 18, 2020
While the original five-year deal suggests this is a long-term investment and a fairly big risk on a player that has never been a full-time starter, the details paint a very, very different picture. Spotrac puts it all into perspective here, but here’s the easily digestible part for you.
Cap hit by year + dead money if released
2020: $5.4 million — $20 million in dead cap
2021: $10.4 million — $14.6 million in dead cap
2022: $8.4 million — $4.2 million in dead cap
2023: $10.4 million — $2.8 million in dead cap
2024: $10.4 million — $1.4 million in dead cap
So, essentially, this a two year deal for Vaitai—potentially a three-year deal. Unless he performs way above expectations, there’s no realistic chance he sees those fourth and fifth years, as the Lions can save $7.6 or $9 million if they release him in 2023 or 2024.
As for how much he’ll cost in the immediate, his $5.4 million cap hit in 2020 current ranks 10th among right tackles (31st among all tackles). That number jumps to $10.4 million next year, which puts him fifth among right tackles... for now. Obviously there will be contracts signed between then and now, but, still, it’s worth noting Detroit will be paying him more than the likes of Mitchell Schwartz in 2021, and they aren’t getting out of it with that dead cap hit.
The real decision will come in 2022, when the Lions can save $4 million in cap space by releasing Vaitai, but he’ll still count $4.2 million against the cap. He has a modest $8.4 million cap hit that year, so if he’s played well through his first two years, there’s a good chance he’ll stay on that contract.
Jamie Collins Sr.
Original reported deal: 3 years, $30 million
Details per Aaron Wilson:
Jamie Collins (Lions) three years, $30M, $18M gtd, $7M signing bonus, salaries $4M (gtd), $8.8M ($7M gtd), $9.8M; $200K workout bonuses 2021, 2022— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 17, 2020
Much like Vaitai’s deal, this contract is a little misleading by the initial reports. By all means, this is a two-year deal for Collins, with a potential pricy third year. Here’s the breakdown:
2020: $6.33 million cap hit — $18 million dead cap
2021: $11.33 million cap hit — $11.66 million dead cap
2022: $12.33 million cap hit — $2.33 million dead cap
Collins starts with a very modest $6.33 million cap hit, placing him between Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (34th among LBs) and former teammate Kyle Van Noy (36th). That number launches to $11.3 million in 2021, putting him at 16th, between recently-signed Cory Littleton ($11.75M) and Vikings’ Eric Kendricks ($11M).
That last year would be a pricy one for Collins, but considering he’ll be 33 in 2022, the Lions may opt to save $10 million rather than keep him around that year.
Original reported deal: 3 years, $13.05 million
Chase Daniel (Lions) three years, $13.05M, $5M gtd, $2.25M signing bonus, salaries $1.25M (gtd), $4.3M ($1.5M gtd), $5M; up to $250K maximum in per game active roster bonus; 2022 voids if informs club between 6th and 14th day following 2021 Super Bowl and repays club $1M— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 18, 2020
While this seems like a lot to pay for a backup quarterback who has started just five games in his 10-year career, this has two-year deal written all over it.
2020: $2 million cap hit — $5 million dead cap
2021: $5.3 million cap hit — $3 million dead cap
2022: $5.75 million cap hit — $750,000 dead cap
There is virtually no way Daniel sees that third year. He’ll 36 at the time and it’s an easy $5 million saved for Detroit. His $2 million cap hit in 2020 is negligible, ranking him in between the likes of Matt Barkley ($2.025 million) and Ryan Griffin ($1.645 million). He takes a pretty significant jump next year to $5.3 million, which places him between Josh Allen ($6.9 million) and Brian Hoyer ($4 million).
That’s honestly a bit much to be paying a 34-year-old backup, but if the Lions are strapped for cash, or find a better option at backup, they can still save $2.3 million by cutting him and absorbing a moderate $3 million in dead cap.
One interesting note in Daniel’s contract is that there is an opt-out option for the quarterback in the third year. He can void the 2022 year in his contract, but would have to pay back $1 million to the team.
And if you’re wondering where that leaves the Lions in cap space, while the details of Nick Williams’ contract are still not public, Lions Wire’s Erik Schlitt has a good estimate here: