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This offseason figures to be an important one for the Detroit Lions and GM Brad Holmes. Between the 2022 NFL draft and the upcoming free agency period, the Lions are positioned to add several impact talents across the roster. They certainly need them if they hope to finish better than 3-13-1 in the second year of the Holmes/Dan Campbell regime.
One of the ways they can attempt to improve is addition-by-subtraction. Jettisoning overpaid veterans whose salaries might be better spent on different players who fit the current Lions better than the “Patriot Way” era and using those funds to boost free agency spending makes a lot of sense.
The Lions don’t have a lot of options on that front. Cutting Taylor Decker or Jeff Okudah, as examples, would technically cost the Lions more cap room than they’re paying for those players in 2022. Here are four that do fit the bill of potential cap casualties in the name of progress.
All the cap figures here are based on roster moves that would be designated post-June 1st, per Over The Cap.
Trey Flowers, EDGE
(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
Potential savings: $16 million
Dead cap hit if cut: $7.24 million
Flowers is the most expensive defensive player on the roster, tied to the team for cap hits of over $23 million in both 2022 and 2023. There’s no way around eating just over $11 million in cap room (guaranteed bonuses) whether he’s on the Lions or not, but not one dime of his $16 million-per-season contract is guaranteed.
The question to ask on Flowers: is he worth $16 million a year based on what he did in 2021 in Aaron Glenn’s defense? If the Lions believe they can get more bang for their $16 million bucks than 1.5 sacks, 24 total tackles and a middle-range PFF grade of 63.0 overall in seven games, Flowers could be a goner even with the back-end dead money.
Will Harris, safety
(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
Potential savings: $2.54 million
Dead cap hit: $238,061
Harris is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Other than a few sporadic drives, he’s not proven to be a starting-caliber safety.
He did play some of the best football of his career late in 2021 when moved (by injury-induced necessity) to outside cornerback from safety. And Harris is relatively inexpensive even as a reserve DB and is popular in the locker room. Cutting him would save nearly $2.3 million in 2022 cap room, however.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, right guard
(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Potential savings: $7 million
Dead cap hit: $1.734 million
Had you polled Lions fans as late as mid-October, dumping Vaitai this offseason would have been a wildly popular proposition. But “Big V” quietly played very well in the overhauled Lions offense. He and rookie RT Penei Sewell often dominated in the run game, and Vaitai turned in the fourth-highest PFF pass-blocking grade of any guard in the NFL (right or left) over the final five weeks of the season.
He’s not inexpensive thanks to the contract he signed prior to the 2020 season that pays him like a tackle and not a guard. Vaitai has never sustained strong play for longer than he did at the end of the 2021 campaign, either. This would seem to be a move the Lions would only make if they desperately needed to free up funds, but it’s not out of the question.
Michael Brockers, defensive end
(AP Photo/Lon Horwedel)
Potential savings: $3 million
Dead cap hit: $5.98 million
Brockers did not have the type of impact the Lions hoped for when they signed the longtime Rams standout to a three-year, $24 million contract last offseason. Now 31, Brockers managed just one sack, six QB pressures and 52 total tackles in 16 games in his first year in Detroit. He battled through several nagging injuries that left him unable to practice most of the year, issues that aren’t likely to get much better at his age and heavy experience level.
The simple math above makes this move seem unlikely. The initial cap room gained by dumping the veteran Brockers would be nearly doubled by the dead cap hit the team would swallow. The savings by cutting Brockers goes up exponentially after the 2022 season, when releasing him would free up $10 million in cap room and cost just $1.98 in dead cap.