Examining Romeo Okwara’s big payday: $20 million guaranteed for Detroit Lions sack leader

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have embraced voidable years as a way to create cap space, and they used one as a mechanism to extend top pass rusher Romeo Okwara while keeping his cap hit manageable this fall.

Okwara’s three-year contract can reach a total value of $39 million if he triggers incentives tied to both his production and the team’s success. For practical purposes, however, the deal is worth $37 million and, with $20 million fully guaranteed, ties Okwara to Detroit for at least two seasons.

The Lions wrote the contract as a four-year deal, according to filings with the NFL Players Association, but 2024 is a voidable year added simply to alleviate Okwara’s cap hit in 2021.

Okwara received a $14 million signing bonus as part of the deal, which prorates to count $3.5 million against the cap each season. Combined with a low base salary this fall of $1 million, Okwara has a first-year cap hit of $4.5 million — far less than most top pass rushers.

If Okwara plays out the deal, the Lions will be left with $3.5 million in dead cap for the 2024 season, when the salary cap should be significantly higher than it is this fall ($182.5 million).

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Okwara acknowledged that he may have left money on the table by agreeing to his new contract minutes into the free agent negotiating period; Bud Dupree, who had two years of elite pass rush production, got a five-year, $82.5 million deal with $35 million guaranteed from the Tennessee Titans.

At $12 million per season, he remains the Lions’ second-highest-paid defensive end behind Trey Flowers, who averages $18 million a year on the deal he signed as a free agent in 2019.

But Okwara said whatever money he left on the table was worth it because he wanted to play with his brother Julian, who also is signed in Detroit through 2023.

“I don’t think that came as any surprise (that other teams were interested), but at the end of the day playing with my brother was definitely very important for me and wanted to get something done pretty quickly because a lot of things can happen during free agency,” Okwara said.

Still 25 years old, Okwara should be able to cash in with one more big contract three years from now if he plays at a level similar to last season, when he had 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and blocked a punt.

Here are the full details of Okwara’s contract:


Signing bonus: $14 million

Base salary: $1 million

Cap hit: $4.5 million


Base salary: $11 million ($5 million fully guaranteed; $5 million becomes guaranteed third day of 2022 league year)

Cap hit: $14.5 million


Base salary: $11 million

Cap hit: $14.5 million


Dead money: $3.5 million

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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