11 March 2012
With the new NFL administrative year nearly upon us, the salary cap number has been established...and it's approximately the amount of the Detroit Tigers' payroll.
The NFL has finally set the 2012 salary cap — $120.6 million. That is just a slight increase ($225,000) over the 2011 limit.
The NFL has also releseased the contract figures for franchised players, such as the Lions' own Cliff Avril:
Quarterback, $14.4; running back, $7.7; receiver, $9.5; tight end, $5.4; offensive line, $9.4; defensive tackle, $7.96; linebacker, $8.85; cornerback, $10.3; safety, $6.2; kicker-punter, $2.65.
Where does this leave the Detroit Lions? They must quickly reduce payroll, as the cap clock is ticking.
On Twitter, CBS Sport's Pat Kirwin:
The Freep's Dave Birkett has more bad news:
As of Friday, the Lions were a projected $11.55 million over the cap, said a person who analyzes contracts across the league.
That number includes a $10.605 million franchise-tag number for defensive end Cliff Avril but does not include projected restricted free agent tenders for linebacker DeAndre Levy, defensive tackle Sammie Hill and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard.
(FYI: The Net Rat has done us all an invaluable service by tracking the Lions' contract numbers, and more importantly, keeping it current up to the minute. To take a look at the Lions' payroll in depth, the Net Rat has made it available as a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.)
As of Sunday afternoon, going by the NFL's rules, the Net Rat's calculations has the Lions at $4,469,780 over the salary cap. The Lions must clear nearly $4.5MM by 4PM Tuesday. Honestly, they need cleave even more off, considering the numerous free agents the Lions need to re-sign.
Confusing it may be, no matter the number, the Lions have work to do.
So whom do the the Lions cut to meet 4PM Tuesday salary cap deadline? I think at least 3 players have reason to worry.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch's contract for 2012 is worth $6.730MM against the 2012 cap He's 33 years old, coming off a solid, but nowhere near spectacular season, is going into the 3rd year of a four year deal, and his on field production should be replaced by the athletic combination of Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young.
I'd hate losing the intangibles of Vanden Bosch's leadership and character (a big reason why Jim Schwartz made him the Lions' number one free agent target going into 2010). But 2 seasons after bringing Vanden Bosch on board, the Lions may have have reached a point where it's no longer needed. They have developed their own leaders over the past two seasons. This is unquestionably Matthew Stafford's team.
31 year old DT Corey Williams is in the final season of his three year deal, and would be a $5MM cap hit in 2012. Williams is coming off a down statistical season compared to 2010, and the Lions have a highly regarded in-house replacement in last year's 1st round draft pick, Nick Fairley, waiting in the wings. But the Lions are hurting for depth at DT, as both Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen are currently free agents.
Like Williams and Vanden Bosch, WR Nate Burleson is also on the bad side of 30. Going into the 3rd year of a five season deal, he will make $4.516MM in 2012. But the Lions do have Titus Young coming off a very solid rookie season, who could replace Burleson in the starting lineup. Young would be a fine number two to Megatron. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no depth at the WR position once you get past Young. In cutting Burleson, the Lions 3rd WR would become...well, someone who isn't on the roster at this time.
The obvious move to cut salary would be waiving Vanden Bosch. With Cliff Avril given the franchise tag (and sticking the Lions with a $10.6MM one year contract), the Lions have their impact, pass rushing end. The depth is there, as Jackson and Young have all kinds of mostly untapped potential, mostly due to playing behind Vanden Bosch. The Lions could go into the season with those three in a rotation, and I doubt Vanden Bosch would be missed at all. But given the Lions' cap issues, Williams and Burleson cannot consider their roster spots safe.
But it doesn't take a mathmagician or capologist (or any other made up NFL jargon) to figure out there's another way the Lions can make the NFL's cap number. Renegotiate contracts.
If the Lions can come to a long-term agreement with Avril, reducing the cap hit for this season, it would be a start in solving the Lions' problems. But it wouldn't be enough.
The biggest reason for the Lions' residing in salary cap Hell is Calvin Johnson's massive contract. Reducing Megatron's 2012 cap number, which stands at a gut churning, roster crippling $21.081MM, is the Lions' best hope of not having to cut a veteran or two while giving them wiggle room to bring back most of their own free agents. Megatron will still get paid, as the Lions would be robbing from their future salary cap in order to free up cash today...but the alternative is much, much worse.
If the Lions can't renegotiate Megaton's contract, the Lions have only one way to get under the cap by Tuesday. Attack their roster with all the subtlety of a drunken butcher with a meat cleaver, and start hacking off contacts.
It won't be pretty.
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