As the Detroit Lions head into the 2023 offseason they are in a decent spot with their salary cap with around $22 million in available space, putting them in the top half of the league. If you’re curious how the Lions arrived at this number, be sure to check out our article: Where the Lions’ salary cap space stands ahead of 2023 free agency.
Even though the Lions are comfortable, at some point they may feel like they need to find ways to increase their salary cap space—and if they don’t want to release a player—one of the most common ways to do that is by restructuring existing contracts.
There are two types of contract restructures available to teams: simple and maximum. A “simple restructure” is the easiest of the 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.
Because Detroit is in good cap health, we are only going to focus on how “simple restructures” would work with the Lions' roster.
Here are some basic parameters of a simple restructure:
- 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).
- Why it’s good for the team: the removal and spreading out of funds gives the team immediate cap relief.
- Why it’s good for the player: once the money is converted into a prorated bonus, it becomes guaranteed, which gives financial security to the player.
- Why it’s 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 or for an amount so significant that it hinders your future.
Who is eligible?
- Players on non-rookie contracts
- Players with base salaries more than the league minimum
- Players with more than one year left on their contract (voided years are applicable here)
How many Lions players meet these requirements?
Because the Lions' roster is so young, there are only eight players eligible for a contract simple restructure.
Let’s take a look at the eight Lions’ players eligible for a simple restructure along with the highest amount of money each player would free up.
Note: All contract numbers are verified via Overthecap.com.
Jared Goff: $9,987,500 in potential 2023 cap savings
As we have seen in previous “simple restructures” under general manager Brad Holmes’ supervision, the Lions often like to only convert a portion of a player's salary into new cap space. So while Goff’s contract has the potential to clearly nearly $10 million, it would be surprising to see the Lions try and clear the full amount.
In the graphic below, you can see Goff’s current deal compared to what a maxed-out simple restructured deal would look like:
You’ll notice Goff’s base salary is reduced from $20.1 million to $1 million, and that nearly $20 million has been converted into a prorated bonus, with close to $10 million being applied to each of the next two seasons. In turn, that lowers his cap hit in 2023, while increasing his cap hit in 2024.
Good for the Lions: If the Lions need to clear a lot of space in a hurry, Goff is the player who can give them the most room in one restructure.
Good news for Goff: In this situation, Goff could potentially add nearly $20 million in guaranteed salary, which would help his job security.
Bad news for the Lions: If the Lions maxed out this restructure, it would almost guarantee Goff is their quarterback in 2024—taking away some flexibility—and it would make 2024’s salary cap management more challenging.
Erik’s thoughts: If you’re confident Goff is part of the team's long-term future, this move could give the Lions a lot of available room this season, with the downside being that he would start making $40+ million next season, instead of potentially the year after.
If you’re not confident Goff is the future of the organization, this move has the potential to be very problematic next offseason.
Taylor Decker: $8,466,667
Because Decker has a voided year added onto his contract, when his base salary is converted to a prorated bonus, it can be spread out over three seasons.
Good for the Lions: Because Decker has such a high base salary, he can offer Detroit the ability to open up a lot of cap space quickly.
Good news for Decker: Every penny restructured is guaranteed so it’s nice job security, but his cap hit in 2024 would be begging for a contract extension.
Bad news for the Lions: That dead cap number in 2025 is painful.
Erik’s thoughts: I might consider Decker for an in-season restructure—like they did last September—but the Lions will need to be careful with how much money they push into the future here.
Frank Ragnow: $7,912,700
With four years to work with, Ragnow represents a potential big immediate gain, with only minimal impact over the length of the contract.
Good for the Lions: Big cap relief now and a palatable increase in future years.
Good news for Ragnow: Prorated bonus money gets paid immediately and that means more funding for Grizzly Man Outdoors.
Bad news for the Lions: $15+ million cap hits from 2024-26.
Erik’s thoughts: There’s not a lot of downside here and if I was Holmes, Ragnow might be my first phone call if I was looking to restructure a player’s contract.
Romeo Okwara: $5,000,000
Even though Okwara is in the final year of his deal, the voided year allows him to be a potential restructure candidate.
Good for the Lions: Unless the plan is to give Okwara a contract extension that would come with a low initial cap hit offset the voided year, there’s not much upside.
Good news for Okwara: Instead of getting paid throughout the year, he would get the majority of his paycheck paid upfront.
Bad news for the Lions: Like with Decker, the voided year would be tough to get behind.
Erik’s thoughts: The only way I would make this move, if I were in Holmes’ position, would be in an emergency “I have no other option” situation.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: $4,200,000
Vaitai already restructured his contract once—last October—which is why his contract is already larger than what he originally signed with then-general manager Bob Quinn.
Good for the Lions: You get Vaitai’s 2023 cap number to a reasonable level.
Good news for Vaitai: He continues to get paid by the Lions.
Bad news for the Lions: The last bad contract from the Quinn era continues to bite you.
Erik’s thoughts: Pushing more money into 2024 seems less than ideal for the Lions in this situation. If I were Holmes, I would be looking at a complete contract renegotiation instead of just a simple restructure.
Tracy Walker: $3,975,000
Not a horrible contract to work with if the Lions need some quick help because they got up against the cap in-season, like last year.
Good for the Lions: Nearly $4 million may not seem like a lot, but it can make a big difference, especially when an unexpected in-season string of players land on injured reserve and you need some quick cap space.
Good news for Walker: Guarantees equal job security while he recovers from an Achilles injury.
Bad news for the Lions: Big salary cap hit in 2024, but not terrible.
Erik’s thoughts: Walker is a foundational piece of the organization, and while $14.3 million is a big number, it’s still borderline top-10 safety money in the NFL. You can live with that number if you need to.
Charles Harris: $2,500,000
Like the Okwara contract, the voided year makes this an option, but not an ideal one. All the good and bad points applied in the Okwara section, also apply here, just on a lower financial scale.
Jack Fox: $836,250
Punter money—even the highest contract ever given to a punter—just isn’t big enough to provide much cap relief. Making this restructure would be as valuable as the “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly. It might save you some time in an unexpected situation, but you only get to use it once and it likely puts you behind.