Detroit Lions using voidable years to keep new CB Cam Sutton’s cap hit down in 2023

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions used one of their favorite methods to maximize current-year cap space with their newest big-ticket signing.

The Lions included two voidable years at the end of new cornerback Cam Sutton’s contract, according to details of the deal filed with the NFL Players Association and first published by A to Z Sports.

Sutton’s three-year, $33 million deal includes a $10.9 million signing bonus and low first-year base salary of $1.1 million.

With two extra voidable years to spread the signing bonus proration, Sutton will carry a cap hit of just $3.28 million in 2023.

The Lions entered the free agent negotiating period with about $21 million in cap space and freed up an additional $5 million Tuesday by converting some of safety Tracy Walker’s $8.95 million base salary to signing bonus, according to ESPN.

Signing bonuses are treated differently than base salary for cap purposes. While a player’s full base salary counts against that year’s cap, signing bonuses are spread evenly over the life of the contract, up to five years.

WELCOME TO DETROIT:Lions sign CB Cam Sutton in NFL free agency: ‘The smartest player I ever coached’

Sutton’s deal includes base salaries of $10.5 million in 2024-25, with $9 million of next year’s salary fully guaranteed and the rest becoming guaranteed on the third day of the 2024 league year.

While the Lions are counting on Sutton to be their No. 1 cornerback this fall, he will count less against the cap than Jeff Okudah, who has a $10.7 million cap hit as the No. 3 pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

The Lions have used dummy years to minimize their first-year cap charges on a number of big signings in recent years, including receiver DJ Chark (who signed a one-year, $10 million contract last spring with two voidable years) and defensive end Romeo Okwara (who got a three-year, $37 million deal with one void year).

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:Lions new CB Cam Sutton had nice on-ball production in 2022 with Steelers

In theory, that allows the team to make bigger or more investments in their current team while taking advantage of a rising future salary cap. But the downside to using voidable years is they leave teams with dead cap hits after a player’s contract expires. Chark, who will be an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. Wednesday, will count about $6 million against the Lions cap in 2023 in dead money.

If Sutton plays out his entire deal in Detroit, the Lions will have a dead cap hit of $4.36 million in 2026 from his contract.

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

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