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Salary cap implications of Detroit Lions suspensions, $1.4 million cap hit looming

Breaking down the contractual fallout from the Detroit Lions recent suspensions.

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

On Friday, the NFL announced the suspensions of multiple players for violations of the league's gambling rules. This list included four players from the Detroit Lions, including Jameson Williams, C.J. Moore, Quintez Cephus, and Stanley Berryhill.

Moore and Cephus were found to have bet on NFL games, were suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and immediately released by the Lions. Williams and Berryhill bet on non-NFL games, but on NFL property, and were suspended for six games by the league.

Details surrounding how these events may have transpired are still being uncovered, and we have addressed several topics surrounding these incidents in recent podcasts and in written form, but one common question we have yet to dissect is how this impacts the Lions' salary cap.

Because the players were suspended due to gambling violations, their contracts undergo some changes that you would not typically see with everyday transactions, with most of the penalties impacting the players and the guaranteed portions of their contracts.

Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

Note: Jason Fitzgerald of published an article focused on how the suspensions will impact the Lions' 2023 salary cap, and I will be referencing his article throughout this piece to help add some clarity.

Jameson Williams

Let’s start with Fitzgerald’s interpretation:

“He will forfeit $382,906 in salary and could be subject to bonus forfeiture of $862,179 if the Lions have the ability to recover any bonus money due to the suspension. Williams will also have his remaining salary guarantees void. Those total $6,877,308, of which $5,378,590 are attributed to the 2024 and 2025 seasons when his status could be more in danger with the team.”

Williams’ $382,906 forfeited will be subtracted from his base salary due to games missed (almost $64,000 per game) and his potential bonus forfeiture will be determined by a league review. In both situations, that money will be eliminated from Williams’ contract.

The $6.9 million Fitzgerald mentions is money that will not be removed from Williams’ but the guarantees that he will receive that money have been eliminated. Basically, if Williams plays out the entirety of his rookie contract, he will earn that $6.9M in salary. But, if the Lions decide to release Williams before his rookie contract expires, the removal of guarantees eliminates the Lions from incurring a salary cap hit from that section (base salary) of his contract.

In short, Williams will be monetarily penalized for games missed, and if the Lions decide to move on from him, the salary cap hit to make that move is lessened for the team due to Williams’ rule violation.

Stanley Berryhill

Fitzgerald’s thoughts on Berryhill:

“Berryhill’s suspension will result in a loss of $290,000 if he makes the Lions roster. The salary cap savings will be reflected at the start of the regular season for the Lions.”

Berryhill’s contractual impact is more straightforward because he has no guarantees built into his deal. If Berryhill makes the Lions’ 53-man roster, he will lose $290,000 in salary due to games missed. If Berryhill does not make the Lions’ 53-man roster, the Lions will suffer no cap hit by releasing him because he has no guarantees on his contract.

C.J. Moore

Fitzgerald explains the complexity of Moore’s contract following his release:

“He signed a two year, $4.5 million contract with $3 million in guarantees back in March. His guarantees will all void out and the only thing that could be a consideration for Detroit is whatever they paid out of his $1.4 million signing bonus. Moore should be subject to full bonus forfeiture since this gambling predated signing the contract, but if any was paid it may be a process to get it back. My feeling is that the Lions will have a $700,000 cap charge for him in 2023 with a credit coming in 2024 but it may be $0 if no money exchanged hands.”

Like with Williams, Moore’s base salary guarantees ($1.6M) are eliminated from his contract but his signing bonus guarantees ($1.4M) are still in question. It’s possible the Lions will incur a $700,000 cap hit in one or each of the next two seasons, depending on how the league views the contract.

If the Lions argue Moore’s rule violation and subsequent suspension occurred before he was part of the 2023 season, they may request to not be charged a cap penalty at all. Moore’s camp, on the other hand, will surely argue that a signing bonus is guaranteed upon signing the contract and that process was completed.

Fitzgerald predicts that the end result will land somewhere in the middle with the Lions taking a $700,000 cap penalty in 2023 but finding relief from the charge in 2024. How this plays out is currently unsettled.

Quintez Cephus

Once again, let’s hear from Fitzgerald:

“Cephus was in the final year of his contract and was set to earn $1.01 million. His salary was not guaranteed. He will leave the Lions with $76,073 in dead money.”

Like with Berryhill, this has a pretty straightforward conclusion. Because Cephus has already received the signing bonus on his rookie deal, the Lions will incur a cap penalty for the remaining $76,073 of the prorated bonus. With no other guarantees, releasing Cephus results in a minimal impact on the Lions’ overall salary cap.

Review (TL:DR)

As a result of the suspensions...

  • Williams will lose $382,906 in game checks and $6.9 million in guarantees
  • Berryhill will lose $290,000 in game checks if he makes the 53-man roster
  • The Lions could incur a $700,000 cap hit in each of the next two seasons for releasing Moore—but this situation is unsettled and the Lions may end up receiving no cap hit at all
  • The Lions will incur a $76,073 cap hit for releasing Cephus

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