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Lions salary cap projection allows plenty of room for free agents

Yesterday, we looked at the Detroit Lions roster and the estimated $36 million in salary cap space currently available. Now it’s time to break out my trusty Yellow Legal Pad and an abacus and give my opinion on how the Lions are likely to spend that money — and potentially create some more.

The first place the Lions may spend some of their $36 million in salary cap space is on their own free agents. Of those free agents, let’s project that the Lions decide to bring back unrestricted free agents Zach Zenner, Levine Toilolo, Ricky Jean Francois and Don Muhlbach (because, really, can the Lions even field a team without Muhlbach?), restricted free agent Romeo Okwara and exclusive rights free agents Steve Longa and Charles Washington.

If the Lions give Okwara a second-round RFA tender, he will earn at least $2.9 million. Assume Toilolo earns a slight raise to $2 million while the rest of the group sign minimum deals. That would cost about $9 million.

With these projected signings, the Lions new available cap space is $27 million.

But don’t go spending all that money on free agency just yet. The Lions have the eighth pick in the draft, eight picks in total, and they will have to pay their draft class. Over the Cap estimates that will cost approximately $8.5 million.

Then there’s Bob Quinn’s history of saving money for in-season transactions, like when he traded for Damon Harrison in 2018. Quinn also likes to save money for inevitable free-agent signings to cover roster injuries. Let’s assume the Lions earmark another $7.5 million for in-season use (including the practice squad).

That leaves the Lions new available cap space at $11 million.

But wait, you are probably asking yourself, “I thought the Lions were flushed with cap space for 2019.” Well, remember that $160 million in salaries for the 54 players under contract for 2019 that we talked about yesterday? Not all of those players will be on the roster next season. Some – like Glover Quin and T.J. Lang – may retire or be salary cap casualties. Others may struggle to make the roster after their spots are taken by new players.

As a simulation, let’s assume that of the 54 players currently under contract for 2019, Lang, Quin, Kenny Wiggins, Tavon Wilson, Sam Martin, Teez Tabor, Nicholas Grigsby, Brandon Powell, Leo Koloamatangi, John Atkins, Mike Ford, Eric Lee, Jerome Cunningham, Dee Virgin, Andre Chachere and Chris Lacy all don’t make the team.

Moving on from these players would clear approximately $36.5 million in salary and bonuses off of the Lions cap while leaving behind $7.5 million in dead money. A $29 million savings! If only renegotiating my cable bill was that easy!

Once we adjust for these changes, the Lions new cap number that they can spend on free agency is — $40 million.

What does that leave the roster looking like? Well, that’s why I have my Yellow Legal Pad.

As you can see, this projection leaves the Lions with 36 players. If you assume all eight of the team’s 2019 draft picks make the roster, that leaves the Lions approximately $40 million for the final nine players to complete the final 53-man roster.

Not enough? In this simulation, the Lions would still have some vulnerable players on the roster that could be trimmed if the team ran short of cash. Theo Riddick, Christian Jones and Nevin Lawson – all of whom are penciled into my 2019 roster pictured above – have roughly $10 million in potential cap savings combined should the Lions choose to go in a different direction.

Cutting Rick Wagner could save another $3 million, and cutting or trading Marvin Jones could save another $4 million. But those latter two moves might signal an even larger rebuilding project than anyone wants to imagine right now.

Bottom line, the Lions are projected to have significant funds to spend on free agency (and far more money than they’ve had in recent years). How Bob Quinn chooses to spend it may very well determine his future in Detroit.

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