Monday, October 01, 2012

The Offseason Part Deux: Can You Spare a Brother a Dime?

The Lions headed into the first full free agency period after the lockout with a tightened salary cap and virtually no money to spend to acquire new talent.  Yes, I know they had an FA period right after the lockout, but because it was so shortened, and players were more or less forced to negotiate at a discount, the owners had the upper hand in the bargaining process.

As part of the new CBA, the NFL placed a tightened salary cap on all teams to $120 million.  Due to having three Top-2 picks in four years, and then signing high-end free agents like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson left the team a little short changed going into the 2012 season.  Due to some good financial finagling by team President Tom Lewand, the Lions were able to restructure contracts of marquee players like Matthew Stafford, converting most of their salary to a bonus for this year.  This allowed the Lions some wiggle room to re-sign veteran players like Calvin Johnson and Stephen Tulloch and place a franchise tag on Cliff Avril, who was coming off a 12-sack season.

But because the Lions were forced into re-signing so many of their players, they had very little money left over to shop for other players to fill critical positions like in the secondary.  Despite the fact that the Lions were able to retain Tulloch and Avril, they still lost CB Eric Wright to the Vikings because they couldn't afford paying him $8 million a year, a salary he wasn't worth. 

What we were left with was virtually the same team from a year ago, with the addition of players they had taken in the April draft.  This led me to the ominous conclusion that unless Detroit had a favorable schedule, we were looking at taking a step back record-wise, if not actually a step back in the development of the team as a whole.

I don't like free agency.  Free agency can be as hit and miss as the NFL Draft.  For every Ryan Leaf or Jamarcus Russell that gets drafted and signs a blockbuster contract only to become a bust, you can always find an established veteran who comes up just as disappointing.  Albert Haynesworth signed a 6-year, $100 million dollar contract and could barely make the field his second year with the Redskins.  He ended up becoming a locker room cancer and the Redskins dumped him in 2011. 

Truth be told, I'd rather sign another Charles Rogers before another Haynesworth.  The Rogers' of the world may give you absolutely nothing, but the failed investments in players like Haynesworth always hurts you even more. 

Luckily, the Lions are nowhere near having this problem.  Every season for the next few years, they're going to be running close to the cap threshold.  Even if the NFL adds a million here or there every year, the breathing room will be eclipsed by the growing enormity of the salaries from high draft picks and high priced free agents. 

If aging players like Vanden Bosch and Burleson show signs of regression, the Lions will have to part ways and look to find their replacements via the draft (more so KVB than Burleson). 

to be continued....