Clarifying cap ramifications if Lions traded Matthew Stafford

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — As trade rumors continue to swirl around Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, we need to reset our understanding of his contract and how a restructure signed a day after Christmas impacts the franchise's cap considerations in any hypothetical deals. 

It's worth noting, chatter about a trade picked up steam last week when WDIV reported the Lions had discussed dealing Stafford with multiple teams, simultaneous with Kelly Stafford, the quarterback's wife, posting on social media that she would be open to a trade to a California team "if Detroit is done with us." 

Matthew Stafford

Lions general manager Bob Quinn emphatically denied the report in a text message, claiming it was "100% false," only for WDIV to double down on its initial report. 

No matter which side you believe, the speculation isn't likely to be stamped out for a couple more months, after the dust has settled from the draft. But when originally reporting on the WDIV story, and Quinn's denial, we provided incorrect details about Stafford's contract. 

Oversimplifying last year's restructure, which converted some of the money owed Stafford into a bonus that could be spread out across the remainder of his deal, we were led to believe Stafford had a cap hit of $21.3 million in 2020 and a dead-money figure of $32 million, implying that trading Stafford would bring an extra $10.7 million cap hit. 

As it turns out, the restructure was more complex than originally understood. 

Here are the key details: 

► The Lions added an automatically voidable year onto the end of the contract. This allows the team to spread out any newly converted bonus money an additional year. 

► The team took a $6 million roster bonus, originally due at the start of the 2020 league year, and converted it to a signing bonus. For cap purposes, that $6 million is spread out evenly over five years, including 2019, since the restructure was signed before the end of the season. That's a $1.2 million cap hit from 2019-2023, instead of $6 million all in 2020.

► Now here's where some accounting got lost in translation. The Lions converted $7.2 million of Stafford's $15 million base salary in 2020 to an option bonus. That means the team can either trigger the option, spreading the $7.2 million cap hit evenly over the final four years of the contract, or ignore it and return the QB's base salary to its original $15 million. Because that $7.2 million remains guaranteed, either way, we incorrectly factored into the dead money. In reality, until the Lions trigger the option, that $7.2 million would be taken on by an acquiring team in a trade. 

Did you get all that? No? That's OK, it's a lot numbers. 

Distilled down, here's what it means: If the Lions were to trade Stafford prior to exercising the option bonus, the dead money the team would be responsible for in 2020 would be $24.8 million, not $32 million. 

That means the Lions would still be paying a steeper cap hit to ship Stafford out than keep him, but it would be a far more manageable amount than originally reported — basically $3.5 million more compared to $10.7 million. 

The arguments to retain Stafford, at least through the 2020 season, don't really change. He still provides the team with a better chance to win next season — important with ownership's ultimatum on Quinn and coach Matt Patricia — and the continued uncertainty with top prospect and projected replacement plan Tua Tagovailoa's health, which may or may not be cleared up at next week's NFL Scouting Combine.