The Detroit Lions have situated themselves favorably for the round of roster cuts that typically hits NFL teams on June 1. By renegotiating contracts with defensive end Robert Porcher and defensive tackle Luther Elliss, the Lions are in a position to shop the free agent market rather than put attractive players into it.
The Lions completed Porcher's renegotiation early in the spring and this week came to terms with Elliss on a deal that is believed to have saved them $2.7 million in cap room.
Lions' salary cap director Tom Lewand handled the negotiations.
The deal could not have been an easy one for Elliss, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, to swallow. His base salary for the 2003 season was dropped by nearly 80 percent -- from $4.7 million to $1 million -- but the Lions reportedly included a $1 million signing bonus to ease the pain. But he indicated two months ago he would accommodate the Lions' desire to renegotiate his deal to give them more cap room flexibility and -- considering his production over the past two seasons -- Elliss had little choice.
Although Elliss has remarkable speed and agility for a man 6-feet-5 and 318 pounds, it was his strength that made him special in the early years. He was a powerful run stopper, capable of disrupting an offense with inside pressure, because of his upper body strength. His production peaked with 81 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks in 1997, and 84 tackles in 1998. He made the NFC Pro Bowl team the following two years while registering 69 and 65 tackles in the 1999 and 2000 NFL seasons, but has struggled -- after elbow surgery -- the past two seasons.
Playing basically with one arm, Elliss was credited with 38 tackles (and no sacks) in 2001 and 42 tackles (with 2 1/2 sacks) last year.
The Lions appreciated the fact he was able to play hurt but felt they could not afford the $4.7 million outlay for the reduced production. As a result, the renegotiation was necessary. The Lions did not adjust the remaining (2004 and 2005) two years on Elliss' contract, so if he is healthy and returns to his previous level of play in 2003, he could conceivably increase the size of his paycheck accordingly.
Porcher, who will be 34 before the start of the 2003 season, remains the most dependable defensive line performer. And Elliss, now 30, can be a dominating force if he is healthy. If the Lions can get improved production from third-year tackle Shaun Rogers and second-year defensive end Kalimba Edwards -- with a solid d-line rotation that includes Jared DeVries, James Hall and Kelvin Pritchett -- they should be effective up front. Just as importantly, they now have some cap room available to pursue free agents who are likely to become available on June 1 or shortly thereafter.
A veteran cornerback, for instance.