In the days leading up to the start of the new league year, the Detroit Lions aggressively cleared cap space by releasing several high-priced veterans.
The team has subsequently been methodical with its spending in the early stages of free agency, largely searching for bargains to pair with the aggressive re-signing of defensive end Romeo Okwara.
A handful of those contracts have been filed with the league in recent days. Here’s how each will impact the salary cap this year and beyond.
Let’s start with Okwara, who had reportedly signed a three-year deal worth up to $39 million. That figure is accurate, and unlike many of the numbers floated around this time of year, not overly inflated.
Here’s how it breaks down.
The Lions gave Okwara a $14 million signing bonus. His base salaries for the three seasons are $1 million in 2021 and $11 million in both 2022 and 2023. With the 2022 salary, $5 million is fully guaranteed, while $10 million is guaranteed in the case of injury.
All added up, that’s $37 million. The remaining $2 million is attached to performance bonuses for sacks and playoff appearances.
As many teams have done this year to counter the reduced salary cap related to the pandemic, the Lions added an automatically voidable year at the end of the deal. This is a device that allows them to spread out the cap hit from the signing bonus.
Bonus money is paid up front, but for cap purposes, it is applied evenly across the length of a deal. So instead of Okwara’s $14 million bonus being spread across three years, it will be distributed across four.
Okwara’s cap hits for the duration of the contract are:
► 2021: $4.5 million
► 2022: $14.5 million
► 2023: $14.5 million
► 2024: $3.5 million.
The other filed contracts are far less consequential to Detroit’s overall cap picture.
Among them, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, who signed ahead of free agency, carries the largest cap hit for the 2021 season. He essentially signed a one-year deal worth $4 million that included a $2 million signing bonus. The Lions spread that bonus across two seasons with a voidable year, so the cap hit will be $3 million this season.
The other veteran the Lions signed ahead of free agency, tight end Josh Hill, will be playing on a veteran minimum deal next season. Because he has more than seven years of experience, he’ll earn a $1.075 million salary in 2021, the top of the scale.
The Lions also gave Hill a $137,500 bonus, the maximum allowed to take advantage of a collectively bargained tool called the veteran salary benefit. Designed to encourage teams to sign higher-priced veterans, it allows those players to count against the cap as if they were second-year players.
That means Hill’s cap hit will be just $917,500. And although it has yet to be filed, it is expected long snapper Don Muhlbach’s contract will look identical to Hill’s.
The Lions also took advantage of another CBA tool to re-sign Jalen Reeves-Maybin. As part of an expansion of the aforementioned veteran salary benefit, teams are permitted to sign two players with at least four years experience to one-year deals worth up to $1.25 million more than the minimum salary without that $1.25 million counting against the cap.
So while Maybin’s one-year, fully guaranteed contract will pay him $2.378 million next season, he will only count $1.128 million against the cap.
The only other contract that’s been filed with the league as of Friday morning is running back Jamaal Williams’ two-year agreement.
The two-year pact is worth up to $7.5 million when you include $1.5 million in performance bonuses tied to yardage and touchdowns. Williams netted a $1.25 million signing bonus and has base salaries of $1 million in 2021 and $3.75 million in 2022, with only $1 million guaranteed that second year.
Williams will count $1.625 million against the cap this year and $4.375 million if he sticks on the roster in 2022.