Detroit Lions: Salary Restructuring Helps, but Calvin Johnson Remains the Key

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was announced today through several media outlets that the Detroit Lions have restructured the contracts of quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Through their actions, this will free up enough money to get the Lions under the salary cap.

At first glance, this appears to be a very selfless act done by three veteran leaders that want to improve their team.

But things get a little tricky when dealing with NFL salaries.

By reworking their deals, they basically extend their own job security by making their contract more of a hit to the team in future years should the team decide to cut them.

You might be asking, "how does that work?"

Basically, NFL salaries are non-guaranteed. Unless otherwise specified, the only part of a contract that is guaranteed are bonuses.

So by converting these non-guaranteed yearly contracts into signing bonuses that are prorated over the life of the contract, this increases the salary cap hit the Lions would incur if they were to cut these players.

Now obviously, Stafford and Suh aren't going anywhere, but Burleson is a little less of an impact player.

That being said, he still is a productive, veteran wide receiver that should continue to help this team.

Another tricky bit of business still persists, and that is just how much money these actions have cleared up.

It appears that the Lions basically cleared up $6.5 million from Suh, about $7 million from Stafford and probably about $3 million from Burleson.

That roughly is about $16 million.

Good news, right?

Not so fast.

Now consider that the Lions were an estimated $11.5 million over the cap, and that windfall of cash turns into only about $5 million.

The Lions still need to re-sign Jeff Backus, Stephen Tulloch, Shaun Hill and Eric Wright, not to mention restricted free agents Sammie Hill and DeAndre Levy.

They also have to sign whoever they draft in the first few rounds.

This means that not only do the Lions not have enough money to re-sign their own free agents, but they don't have enough to bring in their draft picks or any potential outside free agents.

But the Lions need all those players, right?

Absolutely, which means that they have doubled-down on one clear cure-all.

They will need to re-sign wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Johnson's salary cap number this year, the last in his current contract, is about $21 million.

There is no way the Lions can pay him $21 million this year.

But what they can do is re-sign him to a deal that is more back loaded with bonuses, and worry about those problems later.

If the Lions can get his cap number at least cut in half, they could have a chance at signing nearly all of their free agents.

If they can get it cut even more, they might even be able to sign another free agent or two.

But at the end of the day, the only chance for the Lions is to restructure Johnson's deal, and even then they still might have to cut a player or two.