Lions have cap space but limiting factors remain

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
The Lions are expected to work out a contract extension with Matthew Stafford this summer.

Allen Park – With the first wave of free agency in the books, and most of the top players signed, we’re able to get a better grasp on the Detroit Lions’ salary cap situation for 2017.

The business side of the football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s important if you want to understand the construction of a roster and what options are still on the table.

The salary cap was set at $167 million this year, a nearly $12 million increase from the previous season. Additionally, the Lions had another $4.73 million in adjustments and carryover space from the previous season.

Detroit entered free agency with more than $30 million to spend and were aggressive addressing a number of the needs. General manager Bob Quinn loosened the purse strings and cut big checks to upgrade his offensive line, signing tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang to lucrative long-term deals.

Combined, the linemen ate up more than $10 million of the team’s available cap.

Additionally, the Lions added a number of depth players with more moderate cap figures. Linebacker Paul Worrilow, cornerback D.J. Hayden, defensive end Cornelius Washington and defensive tackle Akeem Spence all have cap hits of more than $2 million in 2017.

Tallied, the Lions have approximately $8.5 million in cap space remaining, but there are some additional factors that must be considered.

* First, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap during the offseason. During the season, teams need to be able to account for a full 53-player roster, a 10-man practice squad and any players who end the season on injured reserve.

That means the Lions can’t spend every last dime. They need a rainy-day fund for when the injury bug inevitably bites during the season.  Having that buffer also gives the team the wiggle room to add a veteran player to the roster in July, like they did with wide receiver Anquan Boldin last year.

And remember, if you don’t use cap space, you don’t lose it. You can carry it over to next season.

* Some of the remaining funds will be needed to sign the team’s draft class. It is estimated the Lions will need between $6-7 million to ink their current slate of seven picks, but because only the top 51 contracts count toward the calculation during the offseason, it will only take approximately $2 million in cap space for the entire group.

* As was reported earlier, the Lions made the decision to part ways with linebacker DeAndre Levy. But the team designated him a June 1 release, a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to spread a cap hit over two years.

Levy had $7.2 million in dead money remaining on his contract. The Lions opted to take a $3.6 million hit this year and another $3.6 million in 2018, but in doing so, the team must carry his full cap hit until June.  Once the release becomes official on that date, it will give the Lions another $4.9 million in cap space.

* That extra space is important for the anticipated extension the team is expected to award quarterback Matthew Stafford this summer.

Stafford is already under contract for 2017, but a prorated portion of any signing bonus given to the quarterback will be tackled on to this year’s cap.

For example, let’s say Stafford inks a four-year, $100 million extension that includes a $20 million signing bonus. That bonus would be divided evenly over the time the player is to be under contract, in this case five years. That means a $4 million cap hit would be applied to 2017.

* And while it’s probably a little early for us to start looking ahead to 2018, the Lions are definitely considering the contracts the team must address next offseason, namely defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

Ansah, who is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next year. The Lions could always opt to use the franchise tag, a one-year contract worth the average of the five highest-paid players at the position. In 2016, that figure was $14,550,000 for a defensive end.