Detroit Lions braces for worst case with salary cap (and best too)


ALLEN PARK – The NFL is a crazy place where anything can happen on any Sunday. But there are also some certainties. The grass is green, the lines are white, touchdowns are worth six points, and the salary cap always goes up.

This year, however, that is changing.

The salary cap is expected to drop this year, something that only happened when the league was coming out of the lockout in 2011. That’s it. Otherwise, the limit has increased every year and has increased a lot in recent years. The limit increased by at least $ 10 million each of the last seven years. Last year, it went up exactly $ 10 million to $ 198.2 million.

But then the pandemic hit and dealt a blow to the league’s financial landscape. Now, the cap could fall as low as $ 180 million in 2021, a record contraction of $ 18.2 million. The NFL has never seen anything like this since it adopted the salary cap in 1994, and it will have ramifications across the league in ways known and unknown.

The Lions are trying to prepare for all contingencies until the league finally settles on a cap.

“Obviously there is some uncertainty as to what it will be,” new general manager Brad Holmes said this week. “From our planning standpoint, we’ve actually been weighing each scenario from the most optimistic scenario, what would it be, to the worst case scenario. So it goes back to the planning process and stages in terms of how it works. I will say that (vice president of football administration) Mike Disner has been excellent in terms of his salary cap experience and working with Dan (Campbell) and me and working in those areas. You’ve probably made the process as seamless as it could have been in terms of its utilization and how you view it and fit the way we plan to build the team. Mike Disner has a lot of credit for the salary cap situation. “

The Lions’ cap position is not the worst in the league, but it’s not the best, either, and shrinking camp will leave them with a lot of work to do heading into free agency. The club will save $ 6.1 million by leaving veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant, but it still has commitments worth $ 193 million for 2021. That includes quarterback Jared Goff, who can officially join the team on March 17.

That means in the worst case scenario, the cap is set at $ 180 million and the Lions are $ 13 million over the cap and decisions have yet to be made about who to sign in free agency. They also have an important decision to make about star catcher Kenny Golladay, who is eligible to become a free agent in 13 days. The Lions could use the franchise tag on him, but that would cost another $ 16 million and would require even more moves to get his roster in financial shape.

When asked if the potential fluctuation in the cap could affect Detroit’s decision to use the franchise tag, Holmes said that “we are making plans and using our process in terms of going through each scenario from what it would be like, as you said. , the floor up to what the tallest could probably be. So it’s just about making sure we are prepared for whatever may happen. But it hasn’t really affected us in terms of our use (the franchise tag). “

Holmes came through the scouting department for the Los Angeles Rams, where he worked on the college side, even serving as director of college scouting for the past eight years. So this is his first real foray into free agency and the bright side of things, although the collaborative approach used by Los Angeles allowed him to at least get a feel for how things worked.

He also hired Ray Agnew as his deputy general manager. Agnew has served as Los Angeles director of career exploration for the past four years and adds valuable experience to the upper levels of the main office.

“Ray was joking with me the other day in terms of how much detail we put into the free agency process,” Holmes said. “He has even hinted that it was a bit different. That’s the only way I know of in terms of how to approach player acquisition, is to leave no stone unturned. Whether it’s how it’s going to work with the salary cap and the cash outlay, all of that has really been a fun part in terms of the player acquisition process and the evaluation process and seeing which players really fit and which players fit. within the salary cap structure. (That has) been a fun part of the free agency process. “

The Lions have a lot of work to do in the early days of this rebuild, but don’t expect them to spend a lot in free agency. They remain years away from competitiveness and want to build the team’s foundations through the draft.

“Whoever we bring here, when it comes to talking about the draft or even free agency, it has to be someone we love, you know?” Campbell said. “Someone with whom we all feel there is a near unanimous decision that we love this guy. “This guy can help us, we know who this guy is, we know what he’s about, we know his fit, we know his role,” because that’s just as important. What is the setting? This guy may be one of the best players you’ve ever seen, but if he doesn’t fit us, we don’t know what to do with him. We do not know where to put it, it is useless. That’s where we are right now. Those are the rules, so we’ll try. “

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