The Detroit Lions are taking from their past free agent failures to pay for this year’s class.
Romeo Okwara agreed to a massive pay cut to stay with the Lions in 2023, reducing his base salary from $11 million to $2 million next season in a move that creates nearly $9 million in cap space.
Okwara signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Lions in 2021, coming off a career-high 10-sack season, but has played just nine games since. Okwara ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the 2022 season and did not return until mid-December last year, when he had two sacks among eight tackles in the final five games while playing as a rotational pass rusher behind Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, John Cominsky and Josh Paschal.
Under his new contract, Okwara can earn up to another $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses, according to OverTheCap.com.
In total, the Lions have created nearly $22 million in cap space this spring, which they’ve used to fund upgrades for their defense, by restructuring the contracts of veteran pass rushers Okwara and Charles Harris and cutting defensive lineman Michael Brockers.
Harris took a $3 million pay cut at the start of free agency, reducing his scheduled $6 million base salary by half, to free up nearly $3 million in cap space.
Harris, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Lions last spring after a breakout 7.5-sack season in 2021, can earn up to $250,000 more in per-game roster bonuses, according to OverTheCap.com.
Before free agency, the Lions released Brockers in a move that freed up $10 million in cap room.
The Lions have been active in free agency so far this offseason, adding three potential starters to their secondary in cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, re-signing defensive starters Alex Anzalone and Isaiah Buggs, and adding running back David Montgomery and offensive lineman Graham Glasgow.
Sutton has a cap hit of $3.28 million next season, Montgomery will count $2.85 million against the cap in 2023 and Anzalone and Buggs have combined cap hits of $4.2 million, while the contracts for Moseley (one-year, up to $6 million), Gardner-Johnson (one year, up to $8 million) and Glasgow (one year, up to $4.5 million) have not been filed with the NFL Players Association.
The Lions entered Monday with $19.8 million in cap space for 2023, according to the NFLPA and not including deals for Moseley, Gardner-Johnson, Glasgow, special teams standout CJ Moore and kicker Michael Badgley.
The team still has a contractual decision to make on guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who is due $9.4 million this fall after missing all of last season with a back injury.