Cap Perspective on Rod Marinelli

Just how is Detroit Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli managing his roster with regards to the salary cap? Resident capologist George Ketchman takes a detailed look at the past few years, and what might lie ahead as the team continues to format its cap status.

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May 14, 2008
5:30am

During the off-season, I've seen many posts in the RoarReport Forum and other places that question whether Rod Marinelli is the right man for the job. I've responded to a few, but since a good portion of my answer has to do with the limits of the salary cap, I decided to post a blog entry.

When Rod Marinelli came here in January of 2006, he had a roster of about 70 "Men". Since that time, he's completely overhauled the roster, with only 15 guys remaining since he took over a little more than two years ago. Four starters (Backus, Raiola, Redding, Williams), three special teamers (Hanson, Harris, Mulbach), and eight Backups (DeVries, K. Smith, Wilson, Orlovsky, Lewis, Cody, Fitzsimmons, McHugh). By the time of our first regular season game, I could see as many as another third of those guys gone.

Did it need to be overhauled to the extent that he has done it? I can't answer that. I think it obviously needed to be overhauled, but I'm not sure as to what extent. There were only four guys that are gone that had some substantial value to other teams (S. Rogers, Bly, Woody, Bailey). They all signed multi-year contracts with their new teams and/or Detroit received significant trade value for them. However, most of the guys from the 2006 starting roster have signed minimal salary contracts or are out of football.

There are several problems with overhauling a roster to the extent that it's been overhauled. The biggest is the "dead cap" that is associated with cutting/trading so many players. For a more detailed breakdown of the consequences as it relates to the Lions, refer to my Dead Cap blog entry, where I outline the $50M plus that the Lions have wasted since Marinelli has taken over. I think the bulk of it needed to be done, but none-the-less, it's wasted money and salary cap.

Many people have suggested that Marinelli should have overhauled the roster in one year and been done with it. Here's the problem with doing that. If on June 1st of 2006, the Lions went ahead and cut or traded everyone that is not currently on today's roster. They would have had in excess of $33M of dead cap in 2006 and in excess of $45M of dead cap in 2007, but everyone would be off the books as we were heading into 2008. Technically, it could be more than that, if you factor in guaranteed payments, which is information that I only have limited knowledge of.

The 2006 roster would have only had 24 guys under contract (Kitna, Backus, Raiola, Scott, F. Davis, Roy, Campbell, Fitzsimmons, Furrey, Calhoun, Orlovsky, Sims, Redding, Lenon, DeVries, Cody, Bullocks, K. Smith, Wilson, Lewis, Cannon, Hanson, N. Harris, Mulbach) and we would have had $37M to sign 29 guys or about $1.25M per player. Guys like Paris Lenon, Jared DeVries, Shawn Bryson, Marcus Bell, Rex Tucker, Teddy Lehman and Barry Stokes would all fall into the ballpark of a "$1.25M" player. The even bigger problem come in 2007. If the Lions cut all the players in 2006 (like many suggest) and acquired $45M of dead cap, they couldn't have signed all the players that were signed in 2007, and would have been in excess of $10M over the cap. They could have not signed White, Furrey, Mulitalo and McDonald and still remained under the cap . . .but all of those guys were significant acquisitions. This is why a roster overhaul has to be done in phases.

In the initial stage, you get rid of the guys that you are positive aren't right for the team that you want (Joey, C. Rogers, D. Wilkinson, etc.) and you give the others a chance to see what they can do. During year two, you clean out the bulk of the ones that need to go (Bly, J. Hall, M. Williams, M. Bell, etc.). Rogers needed to be given a chance in 2007, he was cheap ($1.5M of new money), which he was well worth. Same with Boss ($1.1M of new money); you're not going to get a starting LB for $1.1M.

It is very unrealistic to make over a roster in one year. Yea, it could be done, but I don't think it's the best way to do it. The strain that it places on the cap is one thing, but also you have to find guys to replace the ones that are shipped out. Right now, with the spike in the salary cap, it's harder to find quality guys in the free agent market as teams have more money to keep the players that they want to keep.

"Miguel" keeps track of the New England Patriot's salary cap. He knows what he is doing and probably keeps the most detailed and accurate salary cap records for any one team on the internet. Here's the link to his site, Patscap.com, and if you look at his records, he has the Patriots with $5.1M of dead cap in 2006, $6M of dead cap in 2007 and currently $8.8M of dead cap thus far in 2008 for a total of $19.9M over the three year span. The Lions, on the other hand have had $52M of dead cap over the same time frame. So what would Bill Belichick and the Patriots have done if they would have had to operate their roster with an additional $32M of dead cap (52M-19.9M)? Well, it's hard to say. During the three year span, Tom Brady counted almost $36M against the cap . . .how would they have done if they didn't have Tom Brady and had to use Matt Cassel at QB? Or how would they have done without Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas and Laurance Maroney . . .That's about the same amount of cap space to put the Patriots on the same playing field with the Lions.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Marinelli can do when he finally gets to spend the same amount of money as a Belichick or a Dungy, but unfortunately, it won't happen until 2009.

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