Lions Have Exit Strategies for Harrington, Millen

While Matt Millen's arrival as the savior of the Lions franchise was trumpeted with a press conference at the Marriott Centerpoint Hotel in Auburn Hills, Detroit has quietly, without much fanfare, put into place the structure for his exit -- and that of quarterback Joey Harrington -- if necessary.

(ALLEN PARK) - While Matt Millen's arrival as the savior of the Lions franchise was trumpeted with a press conference at the Marriott Centerpoint Hotel in Auburn Hills, Detroit has quietly, without much fanfare, put into place the structure for his exit and that of Joey Harrington if necessary.

Tom Lewand, Executive vice-president and Chief Operating Officer of the Lions has assumed as much responsibility as anyone in the organization over the last few years including being put atop of Ford Field properties. Lewand is the team's chief contract negotiator, the architech of their salary cap structure and oversees all day-to-day business of the franchise and all of Ford properties. As such he is in position to assume the president's role once Millen steps down.

That could be as soon as this offseason. While William Clay Ford, Sr., Owner and Chairman of the Lions is extremely fond of Millen and would love to keep him around, Millen is likely to be courted this offseason to return to the broadcast booth at Fox. That would allow him to be closer to his family in Pennsylvania and watch his son, Marcus (a linebacker, what else?) play for former Lions' head coach Bobby Ross at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY.

If that happens, Lewand would easily move into Millen's office and continue doing what he already has been doing, running the franchise. Millen already ran off his hand picked sucessor, former St. Louis Rams executive Kevin Warren. Actually Lewand acts more like a team president than Millen who is basically the director of player personnel, presiding over the draft, trades and free agency. Those duties are likely to be assumed by either Martin Mayhew or Sheldon White, the current director of pro personnel. Either are capable.

So if Millen decides to go, don't expect the organization to take an exhaustive search for a replacment, the replacement is already in place.

Things are not quite as simple when discussing quarterback Joey Harrington. No matter what anyone tells you, Harrington is in a contract year, plain and simple. When he was drafted third overall by Detroit in the 2001 NFL draft, Harrington was thought to be the franchise quarterback the team never had. After showing some progress in his third season, he has clearly regressed to the point that the team has to make a decision on whether to keep him or to cut him.

Thanks to Lewand's shrewd negotiations, Detroit is in a position where it can walk away from Harrington's deal without killing the cap. Harrington's bonus was split into two tiers, approximately a $10 million bonus up front and a second $3 million roster bonus which he has already been paid.

Because of that, if Detroit elected to cut the cord with Joey after this season, they could do so. The $10 million is pro-rated over the seven years of his contract making it approximately worth $1.42 million of cap money per season. If Detroit released Harrington at the end of the season, the four remaining years of the bonus would accelerate into the cap immediately giving Detroit a $5.7 hit. Ouch!

However, if Detroit waited until June 1, 2005, the hit doesn't come until the 2006 when the salary cap will be several million higher thanks to new television revenue coming via the new Fox, CBS and ESPN deals. Also, with one more year off the contract, the acceleration of three years of the bonus, approximately $4.2 million would be offset by the $4.6 million in base salary that he is due to receive starting next season.

Detroit would actually experience a $400 savings by releasing Harrington in this manner.

That would open the door for Detroit to perhaps be player in the Drew Brees sweepstakes. Brees is likely to get the franchise tag and a $7 or $8 million one-year deal. Detroit could offer a combination of players or picks for Brees if they feel he's the answer including what is beginning to look like a high #1 pick this season. Of course, several suitors including Green Bay and Baltimore are expected to emerge for Brees' services.

Then they could negotiate a long term cap friendly deal once they acquired his rights.

Exit strategies are in place. Detroit is in a position to change if need be.

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