A few weeks ago on the Pat McAfee Show, McAfee took a break from training for his match with Baron Corbin at SummerSlam to talk about which teams were spending the most money in the league from a unit standpoint. What he found is that the Detroit Lions have the most expensive offense in the NFL.
At the time, McAfee’s information—via Warren Sharp—was accurate, but since then, the Commanders recently passed the Lions after a few big extensions. Currently, the Lions are nipping at their heels in second place with $125,807,224 in cap liabilities devoted to their offense, according to OverTheCap.com’s website.
That’s a lot. I understand how seeing something like that could give you pause. After all, the second most expensive offense in the NFL finished in the lower half of the league in just about every major statistical category in 2021. There’s a lot more to the story for the Lions though.
Let’s take a closer look at the Lions' offensive spending and break it down.
First off, we’re going to be doing some comparison work here with the four other teams that are in the top five in offensive spending. Those teams, in order are, the Commanders, Cowboys, Titans, and Cardinals.
Let’s talk about majority spending. For the Lions, the majority of their offensive spending is coming from two different places, quarterbacks and the offensive line. The Lions have the fifth most expensive quarterback corps in the NFL and the third most expensive offensive line. Let’s take a look at how that measures up with the other top five teams by looking at the rankings of spending by offensive position.
What do you see at first glance here? I’ll tell you what I see. I see value for the Lions and lots of it.
Obviously, the Lions are paying Jared Goff a hefty amount of money in 2022. He has the fourth highest cap hit in 2022 among quarterbacks. Outside of that, the money is low for the Lions across the board. They’re in the middle or the bottom half of the league on paying skill players at the moment. That’s something that won’t last forever—Jameson Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and T.J. Hockenson are all on rookie contracts—but it shows the Lions aren’t overspending on a select few players.
The Commanders are fifth in the league in spending on receivers and the majority of that money is only going to two guys. Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. The Cowboys are leading all spending in the running backs section and almost all of that money is going to just one player. The Titans are spending a lot of money on Ryan Tannehill, but they’re also spending a lot of money on just Derrick Henry too. The Cardinals are spending almost all of their wide receiver money on DeAndre Hopkins.
Then there’s the Lions. The Jared Goff contract is certainly taking up a bunch of space, but outside of that, the Lions are not overspending on one player at a position—even at the offensive line, where the Lions are utilizing the third-most cap space in the NFL.
Taylor Decker does command the third highest cap hit among left tackles in the NFL, but that only accounts for a little over $18 million of the $50.6 million the Lions will be spending on their offensive line this year.
The Cardinals are in a somewhat similar boat, but they have the second-highest paid left tackle in D.J. Humphries and the highest-paid center in Rodney Hudson. Together they account for almost $32 million of the $54.2 million they’re spending on their offensive line.
So yes, while the Lions are second in the league in offensive spending, they’re getting a lot of value out of what they’re doing at the moment. The only complaint that you could really lodge against the Lions and their spending revolves around the size of Jared Goff’s contract.
It’s more than fair to say that he hasn’t lived up to his contract, especially in his short time in Detroit, when his cap hit is the largest. The Lions didn’t need to inherit this contract. They could have gone a different way with the Matthew Stafford trade and take on a smaller deal, but they didn’t. Now they have this contract on the books that is potentially preventing the team from doing more in the free agency world.
Like I said earlier, though, the Lions’ balancing of their budget makes strategical sense. They’re focusing their spending on quarterback and offensive line—a combination that has proved successful in this league. And they’re doing so without committing a ton of money to just a handful of players.
This can’t last forever, though. Eventually, St. Brown, Williams, Hockenson, Swift, and others will have to get paid, whether it be here in Detroit or elsewhere. A couple of years down the road, the Lions could just as easily find themselves in the same boat as the teams—shelling out elite-level contracts to individual skill players. Until then, the Lions are building really their offense in an efficient and economical way.