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Ash Thompson Goes Over The Lions Salary Cap Situation In 2018 Again.
For the nerds in the room, the Lions salary cap has been the most frustrating thing about the team for decades. The team has always been close enough to the limit that they could not acquire the higher end players available. Often they were not even able to keep their own players. Somehow they drafted poorly, couldn’t sign free agents, and still, the Lions salary cap situation was a mess.
Bob Quinn began cleaning house from the moment he took over the team. In his third off season, Quinn has finally crawled out from under the ineptitude of his predecessors.
The Detroit Lions have $128,674,606 in total salary cap liabilities to begin the 2018 off season according to overthecap.com. NFL teams know the exact number that the salary cap will be in 2018 and can plan accordingly. The best the rest of us can do at this point is provide an estimate. Scooby Axson of si.com said in December that the cap would end up somewhere between $174 and $178 million dollars. I will use the number $178 million because the final number is almost always higher than the initial December estimates.
The Lions had $7,312,612 in cap space remaining at the end of the season. The only change to that number would be whatever signing bonuses the team paid all of the players they just signed to reserve-futures contracts last week. The team does not announce those figures, and they are small enough not to matter. Those players will also likely become free agents or practice squadders at the end of training camps. When the league year starts only the top 51 contracts of the 90 players the Lions will carry into training camp will count toward the salary cap. None of those players will be on that list.
The remaining salary cap space from 2017 is added to the team’s salary cap for the 2018 season. This is the adjusted salary cap. It is the only number that really matters for NFL general managers. The Lions have an adjusted salary cap of approximately $183,312,612. Subtracting their liabilities from that number leaves the team with $54,638,006. The sites that track this sort of thing disagree with each other on pretty much every number so take this final number with a grain of salt.
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How The Lions Salary Cap Space May Be Used
The Lions have several players that they need to replace in the 2018 offseason. Haloti Ngata, Ezekiel Ansah, Tahir Whitehead, Tavon Wilson, Nevin Lawson, Travis Swanson, and Paul Worrilow are all unrestricted free agents. T. J. Jones is a restricted free agent. The rest of the Lions free agents are easily replaceable and there are dozens of players with similar skill sets at minimal prices.
The Lions need to acquire a starting defensive tackle, cornerback, defensive end, strong safety, interior offensive lineman, and two linebackers. That is their list of needs just to stay even with what they had. Their other option is to rely on replacements already on the roster to take on those roles.
A replacement for Ziggy Ansah’s 12 sacks will likely cost $15 or more million dollars. Even a player with an outside chance to be a reasonably productive pass rusher will likely cost $5 million or more. A Haloti Ngata replacement will likely cost upwards of $8 million. Starting linebackers that are as good or better than Tahir Whitehead get $5 million dollars per season or more. Less than that gets you Whitehead or worse, Worrilow. Starting interior offensive linemen of note have increased their stock to the point of costing $7 million dollars or more per season. Elite starters getting around $10 million. Solid starting corners cost $5 million dollars or more. Higher end free agents cost $8-9 million, and elite corners are going for $12 million or more.
Before the season I wrote an article estimating that the Lions could re-sign most of their free agents and their rookies but still end up with about 15.5 million dollars in real cap space. I was a bit low on Matthew Stafford and Glover Quin’s deals, but the current salary cap estimates are also higher than the ones I was using at the time. That number is still likely pretty close.
Whether Bob Quinn puts that money toward bringing in better players than the team is losing, or to keep the current roster together and add more pieces remains to be seen.