The Mlive story on "dead money" on this year's cap, misunderstandings I see on how it works, and the national media stories on how close to the cap the Lions are, all prompted me to look into the cap situation of the Lions.
I started with Netrat's spreadsheet with the current cap figures for the Lions here.
Then I brushed up on how the cap operates under given circumstances here.
And looked at 2007 Salaries again here.
Finally, I stopped and thought about it for a while in the context of where the team was in the past, is at now, and should be at the end of the season.
Marinelli came in with a multi-year plan for Millen and the Lions (from any number of articles when he was first hired) on how to build a team, and the vision he had for it. It was a vision Millen could buy-in to and relate with, so he has supported Marinelli, IMHO, much more enthusiastically on his personnel and team-building moves than he did his prior two coaches. He's bought in to Marinelli's vision.
However, when you look back at history prior to Marinelli, the Lions were in a very deep hole. I don't know a single Lions fan who wouldn't agree the Lions were a disaster in all areas when Marinelli arrived in 06, and the cap is no exception. What I don't understand is the illusion that there is a magic "cap wand" Marinelli could wave to make mediocre players disappear without impacting the cap.
There are two way to get out of a hole like that -- make gradual changes so the pain is spread over a long period in little bits, or to push it as hard as possible, have a couple of painful years, and then be free to move forward unburdened by the past. Both Mornhinweg and Mariucci, when you look at the roster moves, essentially took route one. Sure, there were cuts, but nothing to the magnitude that has happened in the last couple of off seasons. Looking back at the Bobby Ross drafts, they were just as bad as the Pre-Marinelli Millen drafts, from top to bottom. (see the stories I did on evaluating the draft here and here for my current opinion on the Marinelli drafts)
Rod has nudged the Lions into the second way of changing. They have cut a large number of large salary players in the last 2 years, and it has effected the cap negatively. This year especially they have tried to get the hardest hits out of the way. While it did hamper free agency, if you look closely at the players who are hitting the cap with Dead Money this year, only Kalimba Edwards was designated post June 1st, and is the only one who will count on next years cap right now. So, of the $15.2 million in dead money this season, only $2 million right now is there next season. That will be added to if players are cut, but not by a whole lot. This is in main part because the players they have been signing as band-aids for 1-3 year contracts have small signing bonuses. Couple this with shorter contracts that have already accelerated most of those bonuses into current seasons, and they will count very little to next year's cap if they are let go. In the past, the huge contracts given to mediocre guys meant that when the Lions got rid of guys, or even when they lost them in FA like Duckett, and Woody with his re-worked contract and voidable years, saw the accelerated bonus money hit the cap really hard. As more contracts have been worked differently, you see that the Lions are in more cap-friendly contracts with their current roster than in years past.
BTW - got a couple of emails on Woody -- as the ask-the-commish article points out, players who void years are treated as if they were immediately released or traded. This means all uncharged SB money is charged to the cap immediately. Had Woody remained with the Lions, his SB form his original FA deal before it was shortened, and his reworked deal, would have been charged over the duration of the original and reworked contracts. However, as he did void them they all hit this year for about $3 million. Because they traded S. Rog, same deal. Kennedy, Bryant, and KJ - same deal. Since the amount charged was less than the amount of their salaries, the Lions gained cap space to sign FA.
The Lions also have accelerated some of CJ's bonus money into the cap this year, for a negative impact of over 5 mil. Added in with the dead money, that is over 20.2 million - or 17.41% of the total cap.
Who is the best draft-day trade fodder? McDonald to 49ers for their early 5th. He has a +1 mil cap value (meaning the Lions would gain a million on the cap) and an early 5th would be very useful - to pick up a developmental DT/LB or a KR/PR or to use with our 3a to get back into the 2nd round for a targeted player. I know we'd miss all those negative YAC, but I think I could live with it. Nolan is desperate, and doesn't have time for his other WR to "learn the system". This is a trade that makes so much sense I look for it not to happen!
"DetFan1979, where is to good news?" you shout! I'm getting there...First, Rod has gotten this team to the point that, with a good draft, all of the positions on the team will, for the first time in about a decade, be filled with at worst average/above average NFL starters at every position! Not kidding -- I will do a positional breakdown after the draft. The Lions are in position to be middle of the pack next year, and, if guys step up and with a little luck they may even make the playoffs. Now, lets Fast Forward to the off season in 2009. The Lions are looking to get to the next level -- out of the middle of the back, and into the upper echelon of teams, and possibly position themselves for a Super Bowl run. Roy Williams' contract will be up. The team will be looking to upgrade from average/good players to a few pro-bowl type players who can put them over the edge. Guys like Simms will be nearing the end of their rookie contracts, and the Lions will be looking to lock up their guys who have developed (Peterman, Scott, Bradley, Simms et al) long term. Do they do that or go into Fa with the buying power to bring in 1st and 2nd tier players versus? How about both!
With the CJ bonus paid, and the dead money off the books, plus an increase in the cap to an estimated $123 million, plus the changes to salaries and SB charges -- the Lions as of right now would be an estimated 27 million plus under the cap. That is enough to lock up a few guys long term, keep developing through the draft, and still manage to pick up some quality FA ala Dwayne White and Dan Campbell that other teams don't get locked up.
The keys are that the Lions willingly burdened as much as possible this season under the cap to free up space for the future. As long as they keep having what appear to be productive drafts, and improve in that area this year and beyond, they will have the cap space to keep the draft picks they are developing and still get the FA they need to be perennial post-season participants, and even make a SB run or two.
Fire up the Percolator fellows. The Lions are brewing a nice batch of dark roast coffee -- and it's getting close to done. Smell that deep, invigorating aroma... *ahhh* can't wait for that first sip - can you?