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How much cap space do the Detroit Lions have in 2021?

We break down the projected available cap space in 2021 for the Lions and notable contract situations.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Salary cap space

As of March 17, 2021, the Lions are projected to have $19,328,176 in available cap space for the 2021 NFL Season.

The Lions rolled over $12.8 million in 2020 cap space.


JAN 31 UPDATE: The Lions have made a splash to open their offseason. The trade becomes official in March, but in the meantime, the Lions have agreed to trade Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick. Per Over The Cap, the Lions will carry $19,000,000 in dead money with the trade and clear $14,000,000 in cap space. Once the trade is made official, Goff will carry a 2021 cap charge of $28,150,000, a 2022 cap charge of $26,150,000, a 2023 cap charge of $25,650,000, ad a 2024 cap charge of $26,650,064. The Lions will carry $22,200,000 in dead money following the trade.

The best thing to happen to the Detroit Lions this season was dumping head coach Matt Patricia. Not only did the team get worse under his leadership, he committed the cardinal sin of pissing off the locker room. Despite a brief bump after handing Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn their pink slips, the Lions still ended up with a 5-11 record and the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft.

Freshly hired general manager Brad Holmes has his work cut out for him as Detroit embarks on a pretty significant rebuild project. As of January, he didn’t have much cap room to work with, so he’s going to have to start making some tough decisions about who stays and who goes for 2021.

The NFL powered through its 2020 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The league played without fans in most stadiums, and limited fans in a handful of locations. The decrease in gate revenue is going to result in a decrease in money shared between the 32 teams. This in turn means the salary cap has been decreased. The NFL has announced an official salary cap of $182.5 million, which is sure to result in some tough choices for many teams.

All salary cap information below comes courtesy of the NFLPA Public Salary Cap Report.

Notable contracts

The Lions have to make a decision about quarterback Matthew Stafford. All of their future plans, for 2021 and beyond, start there. His contract carries a hefty $33 million cap hit this year, more than 17 percent of the team’s total, but he’s not due any guaranteed salary dollars, giving Holmes some flexibility.

Stafford will be 33 next season, and he’s spent all 12 years of his career with the Lions. It doesn’t make much sense for either him or the team to stay together as the franchise undergoes a rebuild. The best option for the Lions would be trade him. They’d save $20 million against the cap if they do it as a post-June 1 transaction, and $14 million if they do it before that. Whatever team acquires him will want to rework his contract, but that’s the least of Detroit’s problems.

Another question the new front office will have to handle is how to deal with all the former Patriots players taking up cap space. Patricia and Quinn, both with deep ties to New England, brought over a bunch of ex-Patriots who might not be a great fit moving forward. Linebacker Jamie Collins signed a $30 million, three-year contract with Detroit last spring, but the Lions didn’t get much for their money. Cutting him with a post-June 1 designation would save the team $2 million in cap space, but leave them with more than $9 million in dead money. They can’t really do anything with Trey Flowers this offseason, but he’s probably gone after 2021.

Defensive tackle Danny Shelton has a cap hit of more than $5 million, and they could easily cut him and save $4 million against the cap. Given how poorly the secondary played this season, there’s not much reason to hang onto anyone from that unit, especially cornerback Desmond Trufant and his $12.1 million cap hit. Cutting him saves $6.1 million in cap space. Slot corner Justin Coleman’s $11 million cap hit makes him an obvious target too, and could net the Lions as much as $9 million if it’s done as a post-June 1 designation. Tight end Jesse James is eating up a decent chuck of cap space too, $6.4 million, and letting him go could free up anywhere from $2 to $5 million.

The Lions are set to lose some key players in free agency, most notably wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Golladay will command top dollar on the market, and the Lions will have to decide whether or not to try and sign him at a premium or use the franchise tag. He is just 27, and could be a key piece to getting the offense back up and running.