Detroit Lions might feel salary cap pinch in 2021 because of coronavirus

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus pandemic could leave a number of NFL teams in a salary cap crunch next season, and the Detroit Lions are no exception.

The NFL and its players association agreed over the weekend to spread financial losses from this fall over the 2021-24 salary caps.

Next year’s cap won’t go lower than $175 million, but with this year’s cap at $198.2 million and teams previously planning for a 5-10% increase, that could leave organizations with tough decisions to make.

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Lions president Rod Wood, left, and general manager Bob Quinn watch warmups prior to the game against the Packers on Dec. 31, 2017 at Ford Field.

The Lions rank 15th in largest salary cap commitment for 2021, according to, with 44 players on the books for $175.2 million.

If next year’s cap comes in at the low end of estimates, the Lions could be forced to cut players or renegotiate the contracts of veterans to afford major offseason improvements.

Among their contractual obligations for the 2021 season, the Lions have six players signed with cap numbers above $10 million: Matthew Stafford ($33 million), Trey Flowers ($20 million), Desmond Trufant ($12.5 million), Jamie Collins ($11.3 million), Justin Coleman ($11 million) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai ($10.4 million).

They also have five projected starters (plus kicker Matt Prater) headed for free agency: Taylor Decker, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Jarrad Davis and Duron Harmon. Golladay is expected to sign an extension this summer, and depending on how the deal is structured, it could carry a low 2021 cap number to afford the Lions more flexibility.

Kenny Golladay's pending contract extension will eat into the room the Lions have on their 2021 salary cap.

The Lions aren’t the only team facing a potential cap squeeze. Thirteen other teams are currently over the $175 million threshold when accounting for their top 51 contracts, according to OverTheCap, and four teams – the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs – have more than $200 million in cap commitments for 2021.

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All three of the Lions’ NFC North foes, the Minnesota Vikings ($189.4 million), Chicago Bears ($188.9 million) and Green Bay Packers ($182.1 million) have cap commitments in excess of $175 million next season, and the Bears have fewer players under contract than the Lions.

While teams like the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots will be bustling with cap space no matter where the cap comes in, the Lions should have one benefit most NFL teams don’t: A large cap carry-over from this fall.

Teams are allowed to roll unused cap space from one season to the next, and the Lions enter training camp about $22 million under this year’s cap. Just four teams have more available cap room, though the Lions will need to use some of that excess to get through the season.

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Still, with a big contract coming Golladay’s way, fewer than 53 players on next year’s roster and the replacements for – or re-signings of – Decker and Jones unlikely to be cheap, the Lions will need some of their young players to develop into regular contributors in order to navigate what likely will be, for the first time since the 2010-11 seasons, a shrinking salary cap.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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