Lions' roster set for major overhaul in offseason
by Tom Kowalski
Wednesday January 07, 2009, 12:30 AM
Releasing quarterback Daunte Culpepper would save the Detroit Lions $5 million on next year's salary cap.ALLEN PARK -- As the Detroit Lions continue their search for a new coach, one of the drawbacks to the job is the team's talent-challenged roster.
However, the Lions offer a couple of positives for a new coach: a lot of draft choices and a great deal of room under the salary cap. The Lions are expected to make a major overhaul of their roster in the offseason, and they are in position to do it.
After going 0-16, the Lions have eight draft picks, including five in the first 82 overall picks.
One of those is the first overall choice, the first time the Lions have held that selection since they took Oklahoma running back Billy Sims in 1980. The Lions also hope to get a compensatory pick, based on free agent losses in 2008, which would give them nine draft picks.
There are several other factors that will allow the Lions to make a lot of moves on the roster.
The Lions currently have $95 million committed to their 2009 roster, and, according to Sports Business Journal, the NFL cap for 2009 will be a minimum of $123 million. According to a document obtained from the NFL Players Association, Detroit has $28 million under the cap, but that number could grow significantly because of some expected roster moves.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, cornerback Leigh Bodden, guard Edwin Mulitalo, safety Dwight Smith and tight end Dan Campbell have big salaries coming, and they could be released in the offseason.
Culpepper, who was signed in mid-season, has a $2.5 million roster bonus due in late February that would trigger a $2.5 million salary for next season. If Culpepper is released, the Lions would save $5 million off their cap.
Bodden, who has an $8.6 million roster bonus also due in February, likely will be released, trimming $4.6 million of cap commitment in 2009. Mulitalo and Smith are in the last year of their contracts and, if they get cut, the Lions save $2.8 million and $2.3 million, respectively. Releasing Campbell would result in a savings of about $1 million.
If all of those players are released, the Lions would have an additional $15.7 million available in their cap, giving them almost $39 million to spend on new players for the 2009 season.
The Lions can look for free agents elsewhere because it doesn't appear they will re-sign many of their own unrestricted free agents. Detroit has 18 free agents, and there are only four or five the Lions likely will be interested in re-signing, and all of them, except kicker Jason Hanson, would fill backup roles.
In addition to the draft, the Lions will replenish their roster through free agency, but they won't do it with big-money signings, but a series of solid lower-profile players to fill starting gaps and backup positions.
"In terms of getting players to come here, I have a tremendous degree of confidence that we're going to be able to do that," Lions president Tom Lewand said. "It's not about spending a bunch of money in March to plug holes, and then, all of a sudden, 12 months later have the same holes.
"I've said it repeatedly, from a salary cap perspective, it's easy to get headlines in March. Those aren't the ones we're looking for. We're looking for headlines in December and January and hopefully beyond. Those are the ones that take a strong organization to build. We want to build through the draft."
Lewand isn't only referring to future drafts, but recent drafts as well. Lewand has said the team needs to make more of a commitment to play younger players and allow them to either blossom into productive starters, or cut their losses and move in a different direction.
The Lions have 24 players currently on their roster that are slated to make less than $1 million in salary next season, and 13 of those are former Detroit draft picks, most of whom haven't had a shot at much playing time. The Lions need to make evaluations on these young players so they know whether they need time to develop or whether they need to be replaced.
ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK
Here are five players with big salaries coming next season, and how much cap space they could save the Lions in 2009 if they're released:
• QB Daunte Culpepper -- $5 million
• CB Leigh Bodden -- $4.6 million
• G Edwin Mulitalo -- $2.8 million
• S Dwight Smith -- $2.3 million
• TE Dan Campbell -- $1 million
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Here is the list of Detroit's 18 unrestricted free agents (Jason Hanson is on the list, but because he's still tethered under the 1983 transition tag rule, he still is not totally free because the Lions will have the right of first refusal):
• RB Aveion Cason
• DT Shaun Cody
• WR Keary Colbert
• G Damion Cook
• T George Foster
• K Jason Hanson
• RB Rudi Johnson
• LB Paris Lenon
• C Andy McCollum
• WR Shaun McDonald
• DT Langston Moore
• LB Ryan Nece
• FB Moran Norris
• QB Dan Orlovsky
• TE John Owens
• DE Corey Smith
• G Stephen Peterman
• CB Stanley Wilson
(The Lions do not have any restricted free agents on their roster.)
UNDER A MILLION
The following 24 players are scheduled to earn less than $1 million in salary next season. In a couple of cases, their cap hit will be larger, but that money already has been paid and factored into the cap:
• LB Ernie Sims
• QB Drew Stanton
• QB Drew Henson
• RB Brian Calhoun
• FB Jerome Felton
• WR John Standeford
• WR Adam Jennings
• WR Travis Taylor
• G Manny Ramirez
• DT Chuck Darby
• DE Ikaika Alama-Francis
• DE Andre Fluellen
• DE Cliff Avril
• DT Landon Cohen
• LB Jordon Dizon
• CB Ramzee Robinson
• S Gerald Alexander
• S Daniel Bullocks
• S Kalvin Pearson
• CB Dexter Wynn
• CB Chris Roberson
• S Stuart Schweigert
• S LaMarcus Hicks
• LS Don Muhlbach
I hope we don't overspend on average talent just because we can this year. On the bright side we got enough cash to buy anyone.