Breaking Down Lions' Salary Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency

Brandon AlisogluCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2014

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 29:  Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions celebrates while playing the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on September 29, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NFL offseason has grown almost as riveting as the regular season. Every team, including the Detroit Lions, has a chance to quickly jump from mediocre to elite thanks to the salary cap. 

General manager Martin Mayhew isn't in the best situation, but recent events have put the Lions' salary-cap concerns in a much better light. Let's break down what happened and where the Lions could possibly be going.


The League Grants a Reprieve

The cash-strapped NFL threw the struggling franchises a bone by raising the salary cap to $133 million. That's much more than originally projected.

With the increase, the Lions currently find themselves with a little breathing room. That leaves Detroit with about $10.2 million (including a $1.5-million rollover from 2013) in spending power, but there are still several moves to be made.


Ndamukong Suh's Cap Number will be Reduced

Detroit's front office has made it clear that striking a deal with one of the most consistent defensive players in the league is paramount. Mayhew would prefer to have the new deal completed prior to the beginning of free agency so he knows how much room he has to work with. 

The hangup is that Suh has yet to find an agent. Until the defensive tackle with a boatload of leverage determines his representation, it's unlikely that any deal will be made.


Important Impending Free Agents

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 20: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew #87 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after he ran in a touchdown during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field on October 20, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty
Jason Miller/Getty Images

If the Lions are able to knock off at least $14 million from Suh's cap hit, that would send the Lions into the free-agent market with around $24 million. It's a nice number, but it can't all be earmarked for veteran additions.

After setting aside $5 million for the rookies, the Lions will have a few tough decisions regarding their own players.

First, does Mayhew believe that tight end Brandon Pettigrew is worth a long-term deal? Mayhew has already sung his praises and Pettigrew is one of the few tight ends that can excel in the passing and run-blocking game.

However, Mayhew would do well to take the temperature of head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. If there are better fits on the market or already on the roster, Detroit could either use that information to keep the price low in negotiations, or just look to move on altogether. 

Next, how much would it take to re-sign emerging defensive end Willie Young?  Just a week ago, it would have been difficult to envision a scenario where Young returned to Detroit. Thanks to the large salary-cap raise, more teams, including the Lions, will be able to hold onto their departing players. Therefore, Detroit has a chance to retain the defensive end who broke out with 48 quarterback hurries. 

Lastly, Joique Bell is in line to get paid. The Wayne State product could be kept cheaply for one year thanks to his restricted free-agent status, but Mayhew would be wise to give Reggie Bush's complement at least a three-year deal to keep him around. 


Possible Free-Agent Targets

Just like the draft, plenty of wide receivers will be linked to the Lions. Guys like Hakeem Nicks and Sidney Rice would be an interesting fit. However, the injury risk and possible cost might be too prohibitive.

Another name to keep an eye on is Jacoby Jones. The seven-year veteran could fill in as the third receiver and push Kris Durham further down the depth chart, giving Detroit a reliable pair of hands.

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a gain while under pressure from cornerback Rashean Mathis #31 of the Detroit Lions during the first half at Ford Field on December 16, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Detroit will certainly be looking to add another defensive back after signing safety Isa Abdul-Quddus. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been floated as an option after a bounce-back season in Denver, but that might be a little too rich for the Lions. They already have Chris Houston making $5 million per year and need to let the younger guys develop through playing time. 

Also, the Lions will certainly look to add a kicker via free agency or the draft. After last year's failed David Akers experiment, don't be surprised if Mayhew eschews a veteran like Garrett Hartley in favor of a collegiate talent.