On Friday, it was reported that the Detroit Lions restructured the contract linebacker Jamie Collins signed as a free agent just last March. By adding voidable years to the three-year, $30 million contract that guaranteed him $18 million, the Lions were able to lower his $11.3 million salary cap hit significantly according to NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo.
Earlier this week, news broke that Detroit intends to release cornerback Desmond Trufant, who was also signed as a free agent early last year. The Lions could save as much as $6.5 million on their cap by doing so.
With this year’s salary cap expected to drop significantly league-wide due to the impact of the worldwide pandemic, at a minimum of $180 million, NFL teams around the league are already tightening their collective belts. And their two biggest tools to do so are restructuring existing contracts and outright releases, both of which the Lions have already started to utilize.
But who’s next? Which players in the Motor City may be asked to take a pay cut or will simply be cut soon? Here’s our best guess of three potential candidates …
Justin Coleman, CB
The previous regime in Detroit opted to make Justin Coleman the NFL’s highest-paid slot corner in March of 2019. Inking a four-year, $36 million, Coleman was supposed to help transform the Lions secondary. But over that two-year span, the 27-year old defender has recorded only a single interception.
Last season, Coleman played in a total of 11 games with just five starts. He recorded 30 total tackles, one pass deflection, and had no picks. According to Spotrac.com, releasing Coleman would save the Lions nearly $5 million in salary-cap space, while also incurring a dead cap cost of over $6 million. That cost can be spread over the next two seasons if Coleman is designated a post-June 1 cut.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OG
Having inked a massive five-year, $45 million just last year, parting ways with offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be near impossible. That’s due to a dead cap cost of $14.6 million if he is released prior to June 1.
Instead, the new regime in Detroit could ask “Big V” to restructure his contract. Vaitai was expected to come in and replace Rick Wagner as the Lions’ starter at right tackle, hence the massive contract. But the former Philadelphia Eagles’ backup played in only 10 games last year and allowed six sacks, which was tied for the second-most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Jesse James, TE
The Lions put tight end Jesse James in a tough position when they signed him to a four-year, $25 million deal as a free agent in March of 2019 only to draft T.J. Hockenson with their first-round selection a month later.
James has recorded a total of 30 receptions and two touchdowns over his first two seasons in Motown. Releasing him this offseason could save the Lions as much as $5 million on the salary cap if designated as a post-June 1 cut. That’s a significant amount of cap space for a backup tight end.