In a matter of a few hours, it appears the Detroit Lions have cut enough salary cap space -- or, more accurately, pushed enough of it to future years -- that they can avoid cutting any any players in order to comply with the NFL's salary cap limit by Tuesday's deadline. Let's quickly catch up on what they've done and try to get a handle on what it means.
The Lions opened the day more than $11 million above the cap, but multiple reports, including this one from the Detroit Free Press and another from the Lions' web site, have confirmed the team restructured the contracts of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Nate Burleson. The team reduced Stafford's cap number by more than $7 million and Burleson's by $2.175 million.
Meanwhile, the agent for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh told Fox Sports Detroit that Suh has also agreed to a restructure, and Suh's new cap number will low enough to account for more than $11 million in total cap savings when combined with the restructures of Stafford and Burleson.
We don't yet know how much under the cap the Lions will enter the NFL's new league year with Tuesday, but a rough estimate would put them about $5 million under at this point. A few other points to keep in mind:
The Lions will need a certain portion of that surplus to sign their draft picks.
They'll need enough room to re-sign linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who appears set to test the free agent market.
The Lions have yet to announce the restricted free agent tenders they presumably will give to linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill. The minimum combined cap hit of those two tenders will be $3.8 million.
Pushing $7 million in cap space into the final three years of Stafford's deal means he will be in a position similar to receiver Calvin Johnson next year at this time. If my math is right, Stafford's salary cap number will exceed $20 million for 2013. Johnson's cap number is about $22 million at the moment, and it will stay that way unless he and the Lions agree to a long-term extension.
Stafford's restructure was absolutely necessary and shouldn't result in any change in the cash he will receive in 2012, but it should also work in Stafford's favor when those long-term negotiations begin. The higher Stafford's base salary, the higher is eventual franchise tag number would be. That eventually serves as a baseline for negotiations.
The Lions have the option to borrow more cap space, about $1.5 million, from future years under the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement.
This is important: While it's not ideal, pushing cap commitments ahead isn't necessarily an irresponsible financial approach. The NFL's new television contracts will kick in for the 2014 season, an event that is expected to elevate the league's total cap space considerably.