Forbes: Lions continue losing money

The projected value of NFC North teams rose between two and five percent in the past year, according to Forbes Magazine's latest franchise valuations. Here are a few points of context on an anomaly contained in the report.

The Detroit Lions were the only NFL team to post an operating loss ($3.5 million), based on Forbes' research. It was the fourth consecutive year of losses, and sixth in the past seven years, under Forbes' formula.

You might ask how a franchise in the wildly profitable NFL could lose money. The answer isn't entirely clear, and it's only fair to point out that the Lions' financial books are private and that Forbes' projections based on available information. But let's remember at least two related facts.

First, the Lions carry a substantial debt load from their share of financing Ford Field. (Reports have estimated that load between $350 million and $375 million.) Forbes ranks their percentage of revenues to debt as one of the least-healthiest in the NFL.

Second, as we've noted, the Lions had one of the NFL's highest player payrolls last season. (They rank No. 1 for 2013.) Remember, payroll is the sum of the cash a team pays each player and is different from the salary cap.

Some of that payroll issue is related to the three high draft picks the Lions were assigned at the end of the NFL's former rookie contract scale. As a result, receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh combined to earn $43.6 million last year and will earn a total of $68.6 million this season.

On the other hand, I do think the Lions and the Ford family deserve some credit for some offseason spending on top of those obligations. Running back Reggie Bush, cornerback Chris Houston and safety Glover Quin, all signed as unrestricted free agents, will receive a combined $18.75 million.

The Lions might have a different view of their bottom line, but from the outside, their spending appears quite competitive and hardly protective of tight finances.

Now the valuations, which includes NFL ranking and the percent increase from last season in parentheses;

8. Chicago Bears: $1.252 billion (5)

12. Green Bay Packers: $1.183 billion (2)

21. Minnesota Vikings: $1.007 billion (3)

28. Detroit Lions: $900 million (5)