Lions' High Dead Cap Puts Team at Disadvantage

Read more on how the Detroit Lions' high dead cap puts them at a disadvantage headed into the 2021 NFL season

The saying of “it’s a business” certainly rings true for the Detroit Lions.  

In the NFL, the salary cap is everything. Teams operate with the sole thought of how each decision affects them in relation to the cap. As a result, oftentimes, choices are made to cut ties with fan-favorite veterans and franchise mainstays.  

And, at other times, teams make trades with the intention to better their teams or to move in the direction of a rebuild. 

Regardless, though, these decisions cost money. Recently, the Lions found themselves in a predicament when longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford wanted out.  

The Lions proceeded to trade Stafford to the Rams. However, the Rams didn’t take on the entirety of Stafford’s contract. 

When a player counts against the salary cap of a team they are no longer on -- such as Stafford with the Lions -- this is called dead cap.  


The Lions have the highest dead cap of any team in the NFL, currently sitting with over $42 million, according to Spotrac. Stafford is responsible for a large chunk of that -- exactly $19 million. 

There are 19 other players who have a role in burdening the Lions with the largest dead cap in the league.  

Among this list of players is Detroit's list of recent cuts: defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman, tight end Jesse James, linebacker Christian Jones, quarterback Chase Daniel and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.  

Only one of those players in Trufant will have their 2021 salary paid out. Trufant is owed $3.5 million in base salary and an additional $2.5 million in signing bonus, totaling $6 million. Only Stafford and Coleman ($6.087 million) are owed more.  

Two running backs that the Lions have recently drafted -- Ty Johnson and Jason Huntley -- both count against the dead cap, as well. 

Both have found new homes. Johnson now suits up for the New York Jets, while Huntley currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.  

A recent tweet from football analyst Warren Sharp showed that having high dead-cap numbers has an inverse correlation to wins. 

Including the 2021 Lions, there have been 13 teams since 2013 with a dead-cap total above $40 million. Just one of the teams -- New Orleans in 2016 -- has amassed at least seven wins in the corresponding season.  

One team -- Buffalo in 2018 -- won six games. Four teams won five games, while two won four. 

Cleveland, which surpassed the $40 million mark in dead cap in 2017, joined the Lions in infamy when it became the second team to post a winless season that ensuing fall.  

Having a high dead cap hasn’t been a sign of good fortune. 

The odds are already stacked against the Lions in 2021, with the organization breaking in a new coach, general manager and likely a new quarterback. 

With the cap situation set against them, too, the Lions are set to have an uphill battle this upcoming season.

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