Detroit Lions’ salary cap situation heading into 2021

In an NFL offseason that has already seen much change for the Detroit Lions, what is their 2021 cap situation amid the turbulence? With a new regime in charge in Detroit and a change at the quarterback position, how much salary cap space do the Lions have to work with in 2021, and how can they open up more space if they want to make a splash this offseason?

The Lions currently project to be around $10 million over the salary cap in 2021

Prior to the recent trade with Matthew Stafford heading to the Los Angeles Rams in return for Jared Goff, the Lions were sitting right on the projected salary cap for 2021. However, with $19 million in dead money from Stafford, and a $27.8 million cap number for Goff, the Lions have seen their cap space drop by around $15 million. As of January 31st, that has left them $10 million over the cap with a month and a half until the new season begins.

Currently, the base salary cap projects to be $175 million as agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA. The Lions will roll over $12.8 million in cap space from 2020, giving them a total of $187.8 million in projected salary cap space in 2021.

Who are some potential cut candidates for the Detroit Lions in the coming weeks?

When it comes to finding potential cut candidates for the Lions, the pool is somewhat lacking. There are several players where the Lions can save around $1-5 million. However, one name stands out as an option to clear a big chunk of salary cap space for the Lions in 2021.

Desmond Trufant could clear more than $6 million in salary cap space for the Lions

In 2020, Trufant signed a two-year, $20 million contract. He received a $5 million signing bonus and received $8 million in guaranteed salary. Trufant’s cap number in 2020 was $7.3 million. In 2021, it will be $12.2 million.

His base salary is $9.5 million, with a $500,000 roster bonus per game. Of that $9.5 million in base salary, $3.5 million is guaranteed. Therefore, if the Lions were to cut Trufant, he would leave $6 million in dead cap, while saving $6.2 million in cap space.

Which other players may the Lions release in the coming weeks?

The Lions have a number of cut candidates in the middle of the road in terms of the salary cap. Releasing Justin Coleman could save around $5 million while leaving $6.1 million in dead money. Coleman is under contract for another two seasons with a void year in 2023. His contract no longer carries guarantees, so the Lions can only part ways for the cost of the prorated bonus money remaining on his deal.

Two other players who could be released with limited dead money include:

  • Nicholas Williams (cap saving: $4.65 million)
  • Danny Shelton (cap saving: $4 million)

Meanwhile, the likes of Jesse James, Christian Jones, and Chase Daniel could see their releases to save $2-3 million but would leave similar amounts in dead money.

Could the Lions look to restructure several contracts to save salary cap space in 2021?

In addition, the Lions have many players that they could restructure to open cap space. The obvious name is Jared Goff following the trade to acquire him. The Lions could save as much as $20 million by restructuring Goff’s deal. However, if Goff is not in the Lions’ long-term plans, a restructure does not help them going forward.

Another intriguing player is Trey Flowers. Flowers was underwhelming last season, and the Lions are hamstrung with their options. Releasing Flowers would see his cap hit increase while trading him would save little. However, the Lions could look to restructure his deal to save around $9 million.

The case is similar with both Jamie Collins and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Both are potential trade candidates, especially Collins, who has a strong pedigree behind him. However, restructuring both deals could save the Lions around $10 million in cap space in 2021.

Related | 2021 NFL Free Agents: Top available at each position

The only other player who the Lions could save over $2 million by restructuring is Jesse James. Of the five names here, he seems the least likely to be restructured.

The Lions do not need to do anything crazy this offseason. However, they need to keep their eyes on the future. Numerous restructures will give the Lions cap space in 2021. However, it could derail their rebuilding efforts in the coming years. The Lions will likely not be challengers in 2021. Therefore, they should not hamper their future by looking to compete next season.

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Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.


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