Over the next month, teams will be getting their houses in order as they prepare for the league’s new year, set to begin on March 16.
One of the first steps for NFL teams is to get their salary cap compliant. Technically teams are still operating under the 2021 system, but most NFL media has already set their focus on 2022, which means salary cap projections. One of the more popular NFL salary cap websites is OverTheCap.com (OTC), which breaks down all 32 teams' salary cap status and every player's contract in detail. They also produce salary cap-related articles to help fans get a better understanding of what teams are capable of when it comes to how they spent their money in the upcoming seasons.
One of OTC’s latest articles involves each team's potential to restructure contracts of current players in order to free up cap space. In the piece, they provide a table that explains where a team's cap space currently is, how much cap space “simple restructures” of contracts can help teams, how much room “maximum restructures” create, and how the team’s salary cap changes accordingly.
A “simple restructure” is the most common of the two options and the results are pretty straightforward. The “maximum restructure” can get more complicated, often comes with more risk, and is typically used by teams in a bad spot cap-wise.
The Detroit Lions are in a decent spot cap-wise and head into the 2022 offseason with around $23 million in cap space. If you’re interested in how they got to this number, check out my articles on how the 2022 cap was established at $208.2 million, the money the Lions rolled over to give them more cap space, and a Twitter thread on how the recent reserve/future signings impacted the cap status.
Even though the Lions are comfortable, they still sit around the middle of the league in available cap space and they may be interested in increasing that. If they do want to expand, they may try using a “simple restructure” on some of their players’ contracts.
Here are the basics of how a “simple restructure” would work.
- A team would take a player's base salary (and applicable bonuses) and reduce it to the league minimum—for this piece, I’m reducing them all to $1 million for simplicity.
- The amount that was removed from the base salary is converted into a prorated bonus and spread out over the remaining years of the player’s contract, including voided years (extra years added onto a contract to help spread out the cap hit).
- Good for the team: the removal and spreading out of funds gives the team immediate cap relief this season.
- Good for the player: once the money is converted into a prorated bonus, it becomes guaranteed, which gives financial security to the player.
- Bad for the team: All the converted money is guaranteed, so don’t get caught using this maneuver on a player not long for the roster.
While this seems beneficial for both the player and the team, not every contract is capable of being restructured for various reasons: it’s a rookie contract, the player isn’t making more than the minimum base salary, or they are going into the final year of their contract.
For the Lions, because they have so many young players on rookie or inexpensive contracts, they only have seven players eligible for a contract restructure. While that may not seem like a lot, because of how the veteran contracts are designed, the Lions could potentially save over $50 million in cap space —the seventh-highest figure via restructuring in the league. And while that sounds incredible to be able to free up that much space this offseason, it may not be as appealing when you look at how each player's contract would be altered.
Let’s take a look at the seven Lions’ players eligible for a simple restructure along with the amount of money each player would free up, starting with the ones who have the highest potential.
Note: All contract numbers are provided via Overthecap.com.
Jared Goff: $16,776,667 in 2022 cap savings
Quarterbacks typically have the biggest contracts and therefore, no surprise, they also have the most potential to be gained. In the following charts, Goff’s current contract is on top, with the simple restructure below:
You’ll notice Goff’s base salary is reduced from $10.6 million to $1 million, and his additional bonuses in 2022 are removed and combined to create relief, while his prorated bonuses increase from $5 million to $13.4 million each season.
Good for the Lions: They free up almost $17 million in space in 2022.
Good news for Goff: He went from having $15 million in guaranteed money via prorated bonuses to now having $40.1 million guaranteed (this does not include the $15 million guaranteed in base salary).
Bad news for the Lions: They are now tied to Goff through at least 2023, that year’s cap number increased by $10 million, and if they release him after 2023 they’d still owe him another $13.3 million in guaranteed money (which would also be a cap hit if they released him ahead of 2024).
Erik’s preference: Pass on this one. Not only does it handcuff them to Goff, but the 2023 and 2024 contracts are unreasonable.
Taylor Decker: $10,500,000
Decker represents the second-highest potential amount to be gained:
Good for the Lions: They free up over $10 million in cap space.
Good for Decker: An increase of $14 million in guaranteed money, top-5 OT level money in 2023 and 2024, as well as the stability of knowing the team isn’t planning on moving on from him, for at least three more seasons.
Bad for the Lions: While Decker is a top-15 (top-10?) left tackle in this league, it’s a lot of money in 2023 and 2024.
Erik’s preference: I’m interested, but not sold just yet. It really comes down to how aggressive general manager Brad Holmes wants to be in free agency. A restructure here would offer a lot of flexibility, and if Holmes thinks he needs it to make a big move, I’d understand this path. I fully believe Decker will, at a minimum, finish out his contract with the Lions, so I’d be okay with this restructure.
Trey Flowers: $8,312,500
Good for the Lions: $8.3 million in space is a healthy amount.
Good for Flowers: Nearly $28 million in guaranteed money, more than doubling the current amount.
Bad for the Lions: A $32 million cap hit, with $14 million guaranteed in 2023 is unfathomable.
Erik’s preference: For a player who is a potential cap casualty (the Lions would free up almost $10.4 million by releasing him this offseason), this would be a 180-degree turn from what is expected. It’s a hard pass for me.
Romeo Okwara: $6,666,667
Good for the Lions: Over $6 million of cleared cap space.
Good for Okwara: $20.5 million guaranteed is serious job security for a player only under contract for the next two seasons.
Bad for the Lions: Doubling down on a player who is currently recovering from an Achilles injury seems like a risky investment.
Erik’s preference: If he wasn’t injured and had replicated his success from the previous season, this would make a bunch of sense, but that’s not where we are. I’d pass on this one because there are just too many unknowns about how he will recover from his injury.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: $4,000,000
Good for the Lions: $4 million is solid and could help add some flexibility.
Good for Vaitai: Job. Security.
Bad for the Lions: $13+ million over the final two seasons is top-10 guard money, and Pro Bowl guard Jonah Jackson will be due a contract extension during that time (he is signed through 2023).
Erik’s preference: For just $4 million, the Lions would be locking themselves into Vaitai and a big contract for two more seasons. I’m not sure I like the cost-benefit here. Pass for me, find another way.
Michael Brockers: $3,000,000
Good for the Lions: $3 million in space.
Good for Brockers: Gets him another $6 million guaranteed.
Bad for the Lions: If the Lions were planning on moving on from Brockers in 2023, they just increased the cap hit by $3 million.
Erik’s preference: Because Brockers is likely to be on the roster in 2022 and his contract only extends one year after that, at the end of the day, this is simply moving $3 million from this year into next. I’d be fine with this move.
Frank Ragnow: $1,401,223
Good for the Lions: Gives them another $1.4 million in cap space to work with.
Good for Ragnow: Converting another $1.75 million into guaranteed money.
Bad for the Lions: No real downside here because it’s a small amount spread out over five years.
Erik’s preference: This wouldn't have much of an impact on the Lions' offseason plans, so my preference would be to not do this restructure and instead hold onto it as an emergency option. Remember, this past season, the Lions had so many players on injured reserve they needed to do a simple restructure on Vaitai’s contract, just to get through the final two weeks of the season. It’s always good to have a backup plan.