Lions able to sign free agents despite failing to rework Matthew Stafford's contract
9:20 AM, March 15, 2013
Talks on a new contract for Matthew Stafford never really got off the ground, but that didn’t stop the Detroit Lions from filling two of their biggest needs with a pair of the most prominent free agents at their positions.
The Lions wedged running back Reggie Bush and safety Glover Quin into a tight budget, re-signed cornerback Chris Houston and added defensive end Jason Jones, thanks to some first-year cap-friendly contracts, a depressed market and more than $10 million in reclaimed cap room.
First, on Stafford, Lions president Tom Lewand said Thursday he still hopes to get the quarterback signed to a new, long-term deal.
The Lions met with Stafford’s agent, Tom Condon, last month at the NFL combine but made little progress on a deal that would lower Stafford’s $20.8-million cap figure yet make him one of highest-paid players in the game.
Stafford has two years left on his rookie deal.
“I haven’t changed my position on that in the last few weeks,” Lewand said. “Obviously, we think Matthew Stafford is the guy who can be our quarterback for a long time, and we want to have some discussions with him about his contract, in accordance with that desire to keep him for a long time. If that works out, that’s great. But we know he’s here for at least the next two years, so we’ll keep working on that as well.”
With a new deal for Stafford on the backburner for now, the Lions freed up $7.68 million by restructuring Ndamukong Suh’s contract for the second straight year and got another $2.75 million in savings when Jeff Backus retired Thursday.
Suh converted all but $630,000 of his $12.15-million base salary into a signing bonus, which can be spread over multiple seasons for cap purposes. He now has a hefty cap figure of $21.4 million for 2014, a number bigger than Stafford’s ($19.3 million) and one so large, it will make franchising Suh impossible if he wants to test free agency when his deal expires in two years.
Backus was due a $500,000 roster bonus later this week.
Bush (four years, $16 million), Quin (five years, $23.5 million), Houston (five years, $25 million) and Jones (three years, $9.5 million) all got market-value contracts -- though maybe a bit lower than they anticipated -- with modest first-year cap hits.
Bush counts just $2 million against the cap this year, Quin $2.05 million, Houston $2.3 million, and Jones about $1.8 million. (All four players get $1-million base salaries this season, and their cap number includes a prorated portion of their signing bonuses.)
Lewand said structuring the contracts as such was important for the Lions, who currently have less than $5 million in cap room and several more holes to fill.
“When you’re talking about player acquisition, you want to try and utilize limited resources in the best way possible,” Lewand said. “Everybody has limited resources. The salary cap dictates that. So to the extent that you can be smart in how you spend those dollars, you will, obviously, give yourself a greater chance for success in acquisition and on the field. But that takes a team effort. It takes the coaching staff, the personnel department, the salary cap folks all working together to make sure that the decisions you make are wise, not just from a cap standpoint, but from a personnel standpoint.
“It really is something that doesn’t take place in a vacuum. And if it does, I think you’re in trouble.”
Contact Dave Birkett: 313-222-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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