Understanding the Detroit Lions roster through financial eyes

With free agency heading more and more towards the start of NFL draft season -- and the Detroit Lions continuing to add depth-type signings every week -- it's always a good idea to do one thing.

Follow the money.

Though it's possible the Lions would eat a decent-sized contract if the player just didn't work out, often the larger a financial investment the team has in a player, the more likely he is to stick around. With that in mind, by position, here's a peek at the dollars and sense of the Detroit roster as the Lions have $10,363,997 left in cap space according to ESPN Stats & Information.


Total cap hit at the position: $27.61 million

Biggest hit: Matthew Stafford: $26.5 million

What the additions cost: $0

What does this all mean: For this spot, not much. Stafford is locked in and his two backups, Jake Rudock and Alek Torgersen, have a combined $1.1 million cap hit ($630,000 to Rudock, $480,000 to Torgersen). Rudock is the clear No. 2, and barring something surprising, that isn't likely to change.

Running back

Total cap hit: $9,590,511

Biggest hit: Theo Riddick: $4,137,500

What the additions cost: $2 million (LeGarrette Blount)

What does this all mean: The Lions are a little above the league average (24 percent) for total cap cost at the position, but other than Blount, not much of it is guaranteed -- including no money to Riddick this year. This remains a position in flux, but Detroit has room for flexibility here without too much penalty. Riddick has $1.925 million in dead money for this year and Ameer Abdullah's dead money is $320,660. Essentially, this is a wide-open room that could see a significant shift if the Lions, as expected, use an early draft pick here.

Wide receiver:

Total cap hit: $22,951,456

Biggest hit: Golden Tate: $9,351,250

What the additions cost: $0

What does this all mean: The top three (maybe four) receivers seem locked in -- Tate, Marvin Jones ($8.6 million), Kenny Golladay ($765,706) and TJ Jones ($1.907 million). The future could come fast, though. Tate and TJ Jones are in the final years of their deals and Marvin Jones, who is under contract until 2020, has no guaranteed money left. If the Lions draft a receiver, it could signal that either TJ Jones' job is not particularly safe despite the restricted free agent tender or that the team might not be completely committed to signing Tate to an extension. Tate's situation is going to be worth monitoring, because though he's said he wants to stay with the Lions, he should be due for a raise despite turning 30 on Aug. 2. It would be a surprise if Tate, Marvin Jones and Golladay were not on the 2018 roster.

Tight end:

Total cap hit: $5,739,811

Biggest hit: Luke Willson: $2.5 million

What the additions cost: $4 million (Willson; Levine Toilolo $1.5 million)

What does this all mean: The Lions are 36 percent below average in their tight end spending -- mostly because Eric Ebron was cut last month. The signing bonuses given to Willson ($900,000) and Toilolo ($400,000) signal they are likely to be on the roster and Michael Roberts is in the second year of his rookie contract. The wrench here will be how much draft capital Detroit puts into tight end. A high-to-mid-round pick could mean carrying four tight ends or a surprise cut in the room. Considering Willson and Toilolo are on one-year deals, that might be a possibility.

Offensive line:

Total cap hit: $26,871,596

Biggest hit: T.J. Lang: $10,869,791

What the additions cost: $2.595 million (Kenny Wiggins $1.875 million; Wesley Johnson $720,000)

What does this all mean: Despite last year's two big signings (Lang and Rick Wagner), the Lions are below the league average in offensive line spending. A lot of this has to do with two starters -- Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow -- on rookie contracts. That has given Detroit some flexibility here, and it would not be surprising to see Detroit draft an offensive lineman, too. This is a big year for the money-makers on the line, too. Lang and Wagner are both in the final year of their guaranteed money (Wagner has his $9 million base salary in 2019 guaranteed for injury only) and Detroit will have to make a decision on a fifth-year option (or potential extension) for Decker after the season, too. So this position could get much more expensive 12 months from now.

Defensive end

Total cap hit: $23,495,806

Biggest hit: Ezekiel Ansah $17.143 million

What the additions cost: $0

What does all this mean: With no additions and three of the team's top four defensive ends heading toward some type of free agency in 2019 (Ansah and Cornelius Washington unrestricted, Kerry Hyder restricted), that screams that a draft pick or two will be used, giving Detroit future options and fortification for a group that struggled to pressure quarterbacks the past two seasons. Of course, a scheme shift will likely alter some of that, but Detroit should be using draft capital here -- perhaps even a first-rounder.

Defensive tackle

Total cap hit: $10,953,399

Biggest hit: Akeem Spence $4.25 million

What the additions cost: $3.5 million (Sylvester Williams)

What does this all mean: That the Lions are likely to add at least one defensive tackle in the draft. Though Detroit is close to the league average in spending at the position, Williams is on a one-year deal and is the team's second-most costly tackle. Besides the money factor, there's need. Defensive tackle, at this point, feels like the team's biggest need entering the draft and they could have a bunch of options at No. 20 to try to fill it. The money mirrors that thought process as well.


Total cap hit: $12,005,698

Biggest hit: Devon Kennard $4,334,375

What the additions cost: $7,529,375 (Kennard, Christian Jones $2.475 million, Jonathan Freeny $720,000)

What does this all mean: This position got the biggest makeover of all and spending is still almost 40 percent below the league average. That's in part because middle linebacker Jarrad Davis is on the second year of his rookie deal. A draft pick could get used here, particularly if Detroit plans on using more 3-4 looks, and the money would suggest that it's possible.


Total cap hit: $15,909,910

Biggest hit: Darius Slay $6,126,269

What the additions cost: $3,131,250 (DeShawn Shead)

What does this all mean: The cap hit doesn't include Quandre Diggs (who I moved to safety), and is bolstered by two potential starters -- Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew -- on rookie deals. Nevin Lawson's guaranteed money ($4.55 million) should assure him a roster spot, and same with Shead ($1.5 million). So this position group could be close to set before the start of camp -- at least with its top five.


Total cap hit: $13,718,895

Biggest hit: Glover Quin $6,516,666

What the additions cost: $0

What does this all mean: There's stability here with only Diggs in the final year of his deal. Detroit could add a safety, but this position seems -- five months before the season -- to have some clarity to it.

Special teams:

Total cap hit: $6.87 million

Biggest hit: Matt Prater $3.2 million

What the additions cost: $0

What does this all mean: The Lions will add a camp leg. But Prater, Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach are expected to all win their jobs easily.

Dead money:

The Lions have $6,390,562 of dead money on the books for this season following deals for players no longer on the team.

DeAndre Levy: $4.8 million

Laken Tomlinson $1,119,590

Khyri Thornton $162,500

Antwoine Williams $102,230

Brad Kaaya $92,517

Jimmy Landes $50,178

Pat O'Connor $48,213

Jeremiah Valoaga $8,000

Alex Barrett $4,000

Cole Wick $3,334