How does the Detroit Lions cap health look moving forward?

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson stretches during minicamp in Allen Park on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.
Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson stretches during minicamp in Allen Park on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. /

The Detroit Lions are on a good track in many ways now, and it’s reflected in PFF’s look at their cap health for the next three years.

As the residue of the Matthew Stafford trade last offseason goes away, the Detroit Lions will carry far less dead money this year than they did last. No matter what they do in player movement over the next couple years, they won’t have that kind of dead money on their books. That alone means things are moving in the right direction.

Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus has done a three-year salary cap outlook (2022-2024) for each NFL team using multiple criteria that go beyond strict cap room. He acknowledged the Lions facing reality with Stafford, and moving into their rebuild right away.

"Teams have become more honest with themselves about the talent on their roster or lack thereof — for example, the Detroit Lions moved on from quarterback Matthew Stafford as opposed to chasing mediocrity and prolonging their inevitable rebuild."

Here are the categories that were used in the ranking.
Rookie-contract players–“Active draft capital”: Essentially, attaching a point value to players who are under rookie contracts
Projected effective cap space, 2022-2024: Just what it sounds like, with regard for what a team would have to do to get to 53 players under contract (signed to the veteran minimum) in a given year -thus, “effective cap space”. Here’s Spielberger’s example.

"Example: Team X has 45 players under contract in 2023 and $20 million in cap space. The minimum salary for a player in 2023 is $750,000. In order to field a full 53-man roster, Team X must sign eight more players with cap hits of at least $750,000 in 2023.8 x $750,000 = $6,000,000Team X really has at most $20,000,000 – $6,000,000 = $14,000,000 in 2023 cap spaceTeam X has $14,000,000 in effective 2023 cap space"

Total prorated money (including money that will void): Bonus prorations, dead money…
Top 51 veteran valuation: Total value of a team’s top-51 cap hit players, excluding 2022 draft picks
2023 free agent projections–“2023 UFA valuation”: Value placed on 2023 unrestricted free agents, without projecting what they’ll do in 2022

Detroit Lions’ cap health looks pretty good moving forward

The Lions rank fourth in “active draft capital” value, ninth in “2023 UFA valuation” and 13th in effective cap space from 2022-2024. With two dings–16th in total prorated money and 26th in Top-51 valuation–they land 12th in the overall ranking.

As Spielberger noted in the paragraph about the Lions, they doled out the fifth-fewest guaranteed dollars this offseason.

The bottom-10 ranking in top-51 value is reflected by that unwillingness to overpay in free agency, actually in the last two offseasons as general manager Brad Holmes undertook the rebuild in Detroit. If there’s something to get demerited for in this broad equation, let it be that at the stage the Lions are in.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Lions land in the 2023 version of this cap health ranking. The roster (top-51 value) should be better, and the draft capital value should not go anywhere with two first-round picks again next April.

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