The Detroit Lions Need to Purge the Roster

Read below while you’re watching the video above. The Detroit Lions need to purge the mistakes of the past

Well, it happened. You know what I am talking about. Matthew Stafford said it might be in both parties’ interest if they were no longer together. He isn’t wrong. The Lions are not going to win a Superbowl during what is left of Stafford’s contract and if he wants to leave, the leader of the team can’t be checked out if the team has any hope of actually changing the mood that the history of this team has created. So, if we’re all going to acknowledge that fact, we need to come to terms with who else is in that same boat?

The Lions just threw in the towel on 2021, well, he threw it in for them. At least if you’re a veteran on this team you likely feel this way. A player in their late 20s is likely staring at Twitter right now and thinking, why should I waste my time on this? And before you say “because you signed a contract” know that if the veteran core of this team is angry that they’re walking in the door every day, that is going to have an effect on the young guys. It will not be a good one.

It is time for a purge. The Lions have to field a team, but it shouldn’t be this one. With Matthew Stafford, there may have been a path to winning more games next year, and then the year after, and then… who knows. Without him, these high-priced former Patriots players have got to go. So I’m going to go through the obvious and some not so obvious moves that the Lions need to make. One day ago I was all for trying to use the Lions players to field a defense, and I still think they could, but why? Hell, the Patriots have $53 million or so in cap space next year, maybe they’ll take some of these guys back after Bob Quinn rented them for a year or two if the Lions eat the dead cap and see what they can get. Whether they actually spend this money on players in 2021 isn’t important.

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Some players the Lions have been signed to contracts that are just too big. Bob Quinn was a terrible evaluator of professional football players and loved to hand out big deals for multiple years. The best example is Danny Shelton. The Lions save $4 million by cutting him, he played poorly last year, and he is a marginal fit for what Aaron Glenn will be doing on defense. Shelton was supposed to be a stout run defender who could anchor a defense, but he got pushed around all year and spent far too much time on the ground. This is an easy four million because the cap space can be used directly for a better player at the position. Nick Williams is a better scheme fit, but he saves the team even more money. Those $ 4.7 million dollars could also be spent to bring in a player that’s a better fit or go toward a player at a different position. So by getting rid of the underperforming defensive tackles, if you can score a seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft for one of them, great, but if not you still make both these moves. So the two bad defensive tackles who got run overall throughout the 2020 season combine to get you $8.7 million in salary-cap space. Kevin Strong and John Atkins have been every bit as good, and these guys make under $1 million a year.

Desmond Trufant is not as bad as he was last year, but he saves you $6.5 million and you can just start Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye on the outside. If you’re willing to take anything, someone out there might be willing to give up a player they don’t like or one of those future seventh-round picks. Either way, you’ve got two younger options and are likely to draft more. Move on. Justin Coleman is a solid zone nickel corner. He’s been playing almost exclusively in man coverage for two seasons, and other than a very brief period to begin 2019, he hasn’t done it all that well. Seattle’s defense is being utilized in more and more places across the league, and in that scheme, Coleman was one of the best nickel corners in the league. any team picking him up would get that player for two years at nine million a year. The Jets under Robert Saleh need players and have picks. Seattle’s defense hasn’t done all that well since losing their last wave of free agents, Coleman among them. However, even if there is nobody willing to take Coleman’s deal, he is a huge cap hit for two more years. The move saves the Lions $5 million and much like the Stafford trade, it is likely beneficial for both parties. The two corners that couldn’t cover a floor with a rug last year combine to save you $11.5 million. We’re at $19.2 million in cap space created, $38.2 million if you include Stafford’s eventual trade, and we haven’t lost a single player that we would miss.

Chase Daniel obviously has to go. He was terrible when forced into action, and he’s more expensive than a better player looking for their last shot at starting would be. His deal was embarrassingly bad, it has $1.5 million in guaranteed salary for the 2021 season, but honestly, let’s just purge him and get $2 million in cap space back. Speaking of embarrassing deals: Jessie James. $2.2 million freed up. While we’re cleaning up smaller hits, Nick Bawden is going to hurt himself folding towels or something, let’s get that $800k back. Christian Jones is $2.2 million and redundant with other players. None of those guys are getting you anything back other than the satisfaction of not having them anymore. We’ve hit $44.9 million in freed up salary-cap space, and again, we have not made the team worse in any appreciable way outside depth. Brother that will buy you a whole lot of depth if that’s what you want to spend it on. Those are the deals that the Lions should bail on, whether they can get any compensation back for them or not. we’re open for business, let’s do this thing. But we’re not done yet. There are some guys that, if someone’s willing to offer up a deal, we should likely move on.

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Allegedly the Lions were in competition for Halopoulivaati Vaitai last year. They outbid the competition and got their man. Well if that team is still out there, and they want the guy, if the Lions can trade him, Vaitai saves the team $4 million dollars. Terrell Crosby is good enough at right tackle, and singing Vaitai was stupid in the first place because we already knew that. Crosby makes under a million. To get out from under this deal, the Lions need something back, because Vaitai’s 2021 salary is guaranteed. they can’t just cut him, or he takes up $14.6 million in dead cap space instead of the $5.6 million on a trade. So if nobody will take Big V’s deal, he’s a Lion in 2021. He was injured by Matt Patricia‘s stupid hill before the season, so that wouldn’t be the worst thing. That’s $50.5 million in cap space we’ve created so far.

Jamie Collins checks out when the team isn’t winning. Literally, anything back would make this trade worth making. He’s the Lions’ only linebacker worth keeping, but man, he’s not a guy that is great for the locker room of a bad team. It would cost the team a little over $330k more cap space to cut Collins than to keep him because $7 million of his salary is also guaranteed. If they can trade him though, he saves the team $6.7 million. That takes us to 57.2 million in fresh, and shiny cap space. though now we’re actually making the team less competitive, Collins is the best player we’ve moved, and his day three pick would be this year for sure.

Trey Flowers is the Lions’ best player on defense. That also means he’s the player they are most likely to be able to actually get a solid return for. The rest of the players we’ve been talking about would land a day three pick maybe a day three pick next year, or even 2023. Flowers is likely somewhere in the round 2 or 3 area for a team in need of a pass rusher that is looking to compete immediately. Several teams are running Patriots style defenses now, and they’re the most likely candidates to make this move. Flowers only saves the Lions $5 million in cap space for the 2021 season, but over the other two years of his deal, that’s $46 million in freed up money for younger players that fit better. We’ve hit $62.2 million in freed up cap space for 2021 at this point.

The advantage of this kind of fire sale is not limited to one year. Because let’s say that the team did not make any of these moves, and waited until the following season, limping through the year to a 4-5 win season and not obtaining that cap space. Flowers, Coleman, Collins, Vaitai, Jones (though it is a voided year there is still a dead cap hit), James, and Daniel would still be under contract, and all still need to be moved on from to make room for other options for the same reasons it makes sense now. rather than having created all of that cap space in 2021 and being free of Bob Quinn’s mistakes, year two of this rebuild would be saddled with 25 million in dead cap during the second season. It really is just much better to rip the band-aid off and get this thing rolling.

The Lions have a few other big contracts like someone would give up a first for Taylor Decker, absolutely without a doubt, but he’s a guy that can be a cornerstone of this rebuild, and he will still be under contract when we know the results. It would cost the Lions more to trade Decker than to keep him, so he’s here for the long haul. The team could very likely get a solid return for Frank Ragnow as well, though it’s optimistic to think that a center would return a first-round pick. But Ragnow is a free agent after 2021. There needs to be a conversation with him to determine whether he’s on board for the long haul, or if he wants out. Joe Dahl is the other Lions lineman with a cap hit that they might want to look at moving, but he’s not getting any return, and someone has to block for the rookie quarterback who is coming in. There are not other moves that save the team more than chump change in relation to the cap, and unfortunately the only other players who could net a significant return are T.J. Hockenson and Jeff Okudah. They’re not likely to be shipped out, though Hockenson is coming off a pro bowl season, and would bring in a hefty return as well. I love the player, but his rookie deal is over after next season, and while there is a fifth-year option and multiple seasons of franchise tagging him as an option, well-run teams do not keep players against their will for multiple years.

That $62.2 million in cap space can go a long way toward repairing the roster. Ragnow is much more likely to stay if he gets a raise. They need multiple receivers for the rookie QB they’re about to pick up to throw to and they can’t all come out of this draft. There are a plethora of free agent options. Let’s assume the Lions grab a borderline WR1 like Corey Davis or Will Fuller with a less expensive WR 2-3 like Curtis Samuel or Josh Reynolds and give Ragnow a bump; chances are the year one cap hits of those moves is around $20 million. The first year is always the cheapest year remember. Romeo Okwara is only 25 years old, and is coming off a ten sack season, he, or someone like him will set the team back another 15, a middle linebacker will be 7-8, a safety another 7-8, and then the draft with all that extra capital the team picked up in these trades can fill out the roster for this year.

The following season, all that dead cap we created in 2021 comes off the books, and the team has all that money to build even further, or extend the few Bob Quinn draft picks that did pan out. Oh, did I leave out that we created $61.4 million in dead cap charges for the 2021 season? That is an unpleasant number, to be sure, but recall that it creates a second year in 2022 with an astronomically high amount of cap space for the team in 2022. If you’ve ever looked at a list of the NFL teams with the most salary cap and wondered how a team could possibly have 60-70 million in cap space repeatedly, this is usually how that process starts.

Why Do This?

Performing this purge does three things. The first is that it gets veteran players who will not want to be here, or who don’t deserve to be here, out the door, and that’s important if the front office really do want to change the culture. Day one of whatever OTAs there are going to be isn’t a group of guys rearing to get back to work. It’s the first step of a death march. That needs to change. The second is that it immediately creates a lot of cap space and draft capital to begin remaking the roster under the new front office’s vision for what this thing needs to be. The third is that it gives the team the financial flexibility to stop bleeding talent to the rest of the league over relatively small amounts of money.

Golden Tate, Darius Slay, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Riley Reiff,  Larry Warford, Graham Glasgow, and many more have gone elsewhere because the Lions would, or could, not pony up the dough. Indirectly, the loss of all that talent over peanuts is why Matthew Stafford does not see this as a team that can get him where he wants to go. Trying to hold on to what the Lions have, only stands in the way of getting better things. The most important reason that purging this roster to speed up the rebuild is the best play, is to make sure that this never happens again.

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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.