The Detroit Lions 2020 Salary Cap Situation

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Tired of not understanding how the NFL salary cap works? Here is a guide to understanding the Detroit Lions salary cap scenario.

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that any article you read about the Detroit Lions salary cap will be wrong. The NFL collective bargaining agreement is complicated. It is very difficult for many people to wrap their brains around how it works, and most people don’t care enough to figure it out. Unfortunately, I am not most people.

I am not taking shots at any of the professionals who make errors in their reporting about this matter. I just want to clear up the issue of how much salary cap space the Detroit Lions have. Ideally, I want at least some of my conversations about the team to be a little better informed. This one is for the Detroit Lions Podcast Patreon People, the smartest Detroit Lions chat on the internet, which you could be a part of for as little as $1 a month, but the information is free to all. With that disgusting corporate schilling complete, here we go:

A Few Detroit Lions Facts Everyone Misses

Bob Quinn operates with at least a $10 million buffer for in-season moves. So that has to come off the top of any calculation about the Lions salary cap space.

Only 51 contracts count against the cap during the offseason. When the season starts it is 53. These will be the two lowest-cost contracts on the roster, roughly $1m needs to be subtracted from the total because of this.

Every time a player is signed who counts in the top 51 contracts, they knock another player out. The roster during the offseason balloons to 90 players. For ease of calculation, every time a player is signed, the addition to the Lions total against the cap ends up being about $600k less in year one than their contract states for year one.

Not all of the rookies’ contracts add to the Lions cap use. Yes, the rookies’ salaries will be about $13 million, but the day three picks will not count against the 51 highest contracts. Not only that but if a round 5-7 pick makes the team, a more expensive veteran gets cut. Late-round picks and undrafted rookies functionally add a small amount of cap space in the end. Only the first four rounds are going to count at all, and even they knock four other players off the list. Just under $7 million of that rookie salary cap will add to the Lions cap charges. Still with me? Cool, now we can do some math.

Hey Man, Get To It

So, depending on which site you believe (they’re all wrong this time of year), the Lions have $45-$47 million in cap space. Remove $7 million for the rookies. Pull out another $1 million for the jump to 53 in September. Remove $10 million for the Quinn buffer. So, the Lions will use about $28 million. Sort of, we’re not quite done yet.

The Lions have 65 players under contract, they are drafting seven players, and they’ll sign some undrafted rookies, let’s say six because it makes the rest of this math easier. That leaves 12 more players to sign to get to 90, the maximum going into training camp. Most of those players are not going to count against the top 51, or count very little. If a player signs for $1 million, it’s only $400k more than the guy they knock out of the 51 that count.

If the Lions did sign 12 players that counted against the top 51 deals (they won’t), the players that drop off would create approximately $8 million more cap space. They have 12 contracts to sign and $36 million in functional cap space. There is your real cap space number for the Detroit Lions. The signings can average $3 million per player in the first year of their contracts.  Theoretically. Clear as mud? Yeah, I get that.

How Whelmed Should I Be?

Simplistically, one $11 million deal for a stud defensive tackle means four sub $1m deals elsewhere. One $18 million deal for a pass rusher means 8 sub $1 million deals to balance it under the cap. Bob Quinn has to choose between individual impact and overall depth in his free-agent signings. And there is one really dumb thing people keep talking about, that I want to address before I finish.

Cutting or trading Matthew Stafford and taking a cap hit $10 million higher than keeping him is a monumentally stupid idea for a regime trying to win games in 2020. Doing that would reduce that average free agent salary to $1.4 million denying Quinn the opportunity to bring in impact free agents or create depth. The Lions are not doing that, no matter what “the streets” say. That’s how you get fired.

Ash Thompson does not want you to follow him on twitter. He is not there to entertain you. If you find a mistake in this article, he did warn you that any article you read on this subject would be wrong.


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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.