By TJLionheart (Check out TJLionheat and NetRat's Cap Spreadsheet)
February 27, 2003
According to Tom Lewand, the Detroit Lions salary cap specialist, Detroit has a little more than $11 million in cap space as the Lions head into the free agent signing period at 12:01 a.m. February 28, 2003. On Thursday night, Lewand commented on Inside the Locker Room, WXYT-1270 AM that this was the most free cap space the team has had in years going into free agency.
The $11 million dollar number is slightly misleading since the Lions only have 44 players under contract, assuming Mikael Ricks is included. Mikael Ricks contract was rejected by the NFL because he is not eligible to resign until Friday. Under most circumstances, only the top 51 player contracts are counted toward the cap until the regular season begins, and the team must remain under the cap from March 1, 2003 until the season ends.
Also, the Lions will need to set aside approximately $5 million in cap space to sign its draft choices. Under league rules, the NFL sets a rookie salary pool based upon an undisclosed formula tied to the number of draft picks a team has and the location of the draft pick. Carolina drafted in the 2nd slot in each round last year, and was given a rookie cap of just over $5 million for its 9 picks. The Lions currently have 8 picks in the 2003 draft. Under the labor agreement with the players, the rookie salary cap for 2003 will be the same as it was under 2002. Thus, if the Lions remain at the number 2 slot, the cap will be in the $5 million range. If this number is considered, the Lions really only have about $6 million in cap space to sign free agents.
During the regular season, teams are responsible for all player contracts. Each teams roster is limited to 53 players in the regular season, but the total players under contract can reach higher due to players on injury stats, who also must be counted. The Lions will need to save enough cap space to accommodate anywhere from 55 to 60 players.
It is likely that the Lions will look to free additional cap space by reworking or cutting several other veteran players. The most likely players that will be affected are Ty Detmer, Eric Beverly, Luther Ellis and James Stewart.