Detroit Lions Salary Cap Situation Looking Even Worse in 2015


Jan 15, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew (left) , head coach Jim Caldwell and president Tom Lewand pose for a photo during a press conference at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions aren’t in great salary cap shape this offseason. That is a widely known fact with fans but what hasn’t been discussed is that the situation may go from bad to worse in 2015.

Even though we are only about a week into free agency and the draft is still a few weeks away, the Lions’ starters on offense and defense are mostly set. With the help of, I compiled a projected starting lineup complete with each players’ cap hit for 2014 and 2015.

A couple quick notes before I blast you with the numbers.

  • Even though 2015 is a voidable year on Ndamukong Suh‘s contract, I included what the cap hit would be if he chose not to void the deal. The likelihood the Lions and Suh eventually reaching an agreement on a extension being high, it makes sense to project him in the 2015 lineup and the cap hit on the voidable year of his current deal is probably a good estimate of what he will count against the cap via an extension.
  • As a 2011 first round pick, the Lions hold an option on a fifth year for Nick Fairley and the following projection assumes they pick up that option.
  • I used a starting offensive lineup of two running backs, two wide receivers and one tight end because that includes the biggest current cap hits and those five players are the most likely to be on the 2015 roster rather than substituting one of the backs for a third receiver or second tight end.
  • Don Carey is unlikely to be a starter in 2014 or 2015 and the person who does will likely carry a higher cap number. Even so, Carey is a decent place-holder for our purposes here.

Now for the numbers.

PositionName2014 Cap Hit2015 Cap Hit
QBMatthew Stafford$15,820,000$17,721,250
RBReggie Bush$4,500,000$4,500,000
RBJoique Bell$2,300,000$3,500,000
WRCalvin Johnson$13,058,000$20,558,000
WRGolden Tate$3,100,000$5,350,000
TEBrandon Pettigrew$2,200,000$3,800,000
OTRiley Reiff$2,180,100$2,543,450
OGRob Sims$3,775,000
CDominic Raiola$1,500,000
OGLarry Warford$714,250$849,250
OTLaAdrian Waddle$498,333$588,334
DEEzekiel Ansah$4,226,023$5,071,228
DTNdamukong Suh$22,412,500$13,242,500
DTNick Fairley$3,146,500$5,435,000
DEJason Jones$3,683,333$3,983,334
OLBDeAndre Levy$3,250,000$4,500,000
MLBStephen Tulloch$5,050,000$5,800,000
OLBAshlee Palmer$1,583,334
CBChris Houston$4,800,000$5,800,000
CBDarius Slay$1,202,114$1,442,537
SGlover Quin$4,550,000$5,050,000
SDon Carey$930,000$995,000
Starters Total$104,479,487$110,729,883
Total Salary Cap$133,000,000$140,000,000
Starters % of Cap78.56%79.09%

With the projected roster above and current salary cap commitments associated with each player, the Lions have about 78.5% of their salary cap taken up by the starting lineup. With the salary cap expected to take another decent jump up across the $140 million mark for 2015, the cap percentage taken up by starters sets a baseline for comparing 2015 to 2014. And there the problem is obvious.

Despite the expiring contracts of Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola and Ashlee Palmer, the Lions currently have almost 79.1% of the $140 million projected 2015 salary cap committed to their starting lineup. On a percentage basis, they have more in 2015 salary cap commitments with three starting jobs still to fill. A Pro Football Talk post from March 7 suggested the 2015 cap could come in closer to $145 million, but that would only allow the Lions to fill each of those three spots with $1 million cap hits to reach their current cap percentage taken up by starters.

It is important to remember that salary cap situations can be fluid so nothing presented above is set in stone. The problem facing the Lions in 2015 is that there aren’t easy contracts to cut to create salary cap space like they had with Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas this offseason.

DeAndre Levy could be cut next offseason to save $3.5 million but there isn’t anything wrong with his $4.5 million cap number for ’15 based on the way he played last season. The Lions could save $3.2 million by moving on from Stephen Tulloch but he played well in 2013 and there is no apparent replacement on the roster yet.

The two targets for salary cap relief would be Jason Jones and Chris Houston. Releasing both of them would free up a total of about $5 million but creates two more spots to fill.

Reggie Bush, Glover Quin, Joique Bell and Riley Reiff are the only other players who could be cut to save at least $1 million for 2015, yet all should still be core players.

The Lions could restructure the contracts of Matthew Stafford and/or Calvin Johnson but that would largely be a continuation of the practices that got the Lions into their salary cap problems in the first place. Converting base salary to a bonus allows for immediate cap relief as the bonus is spread over the remaining years of the contract. Stafford and Johnson are already set to count over $21 million each against the cap in 2016 and 2017. A restructure for 2015 makes those numbers climb even higher.