Most of the players the Lions have signed during the free agency period will have a chance to make more money than their base contract terms in 2016.
Thanks to incentive-laden deals, some of the new Lions players could be in for a windfall if they play more than expected this season. And on the flip side, the Lions could save some salary cap space in the future if those players don’t meet expectations.
Under new general manager Bob Quinn and vice president of football administration Matt Harriss, the team’s new salary cap expert, the Lions have given out several incentive-laden contracts to most of the free agents they’ve signed, either from their team or on the open market.
“We want these guys to earn their contracts,” Quinn said last week about the trend.
For some players, the incentives make complete sense as older or injury-prone players will have to prove themselves to earn the bonuses. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata turned 32 this year, and in addition to the $2 million base salary for 2016, he’ll make $15,625 for each game he’s on the 46-man roster, potentially an extra $250,000.
Cornerback Johnson Bademosi can make an extra $1.5 million on his two-year deal if he plays a certain amount on defense and makes the Pro Bowl, the ladder of which would likely be due to special teams contributions. Safety Tavon Wilson’s deal is for two years and $2.2 million, but if he hits certain benchmarks for defensive snaps, he could make an extra $500,000 each year.
Defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker’s deal is officially for one year, $1.6 million, but it could be worth more than $2 million. He has a per-game bonus of $21,875, which could total $350,000 but the Lions were looking ahead considering he’s coming off a broken leg. Walker also has a $200,000 roster bonus due this spring or summer if he passes a physical and a $100,000 workout bonus.
Nearly every player the Lions signed this year besides wide receiver Marvin Jones has some incentives in his deal. Jones, though received a five-year, $40 million deal, and high-priced free agents often avoid having incentives in their deals.
“At different levels of players, you’re obviously going to have to guarantee money, signing bonuses, roster bonuses, salary in some aspects,” Quinn said. “I think it’s just one of those things where you look at the player, you assign the value and you’ve got to assign the role, what you think the guy might be depending on who else is on the team at their position. And if you put some incentives into the contract, it kind of protects the team a little bit, but it also gives the player kind of an opportunity to earn more than what’s actually written in his contract.”