Lions Free Agency Update and Analysis

As all Lions fans know, the Lions have reached agreements with two free agents on the opening morning of free agency.  Nate Burleson signed a 5-year $25 million contract with $11 million guaranteed.  Kyle Vanden Bosch signed a 4-year $26 million deal with no reports on the guaranteed money.

First and foremost, I am not a huge fan of the Burleson signing because he is so inconsistent.  However, let’s clear up something about his contract.  Everybody is freaking out over the amount of the deal, on the surface it looks like a ridiculously high contract.

The guaranteed money is all going to be front-loaded, meaning the bulk if not all of it will be paid this season.  Since there isn’t a salary cap the Lions can pay as much in guarantees as they want, and they protect themselves by paying all the bonus money in the uncapped year.  If the cap comes back next year, they can cut Burleson without his bonus money accelerating into the 2011 cap.

Signing bonuses always made it tough to cut players with the cap in place because it caused all remaining bonus money to count against the cap that year.  For example, the Lions sign Burleson to a 5-year deal with a guaranteed bonus of $11 million with the bonus split evenly over the 5 years and they decided to cut him after one.  He would have been paid $2.2 million of his bonus in that first season, but would still be owed $8.8 million.  In the salary cap environment, that $8.8 would count against the salary cap in the season the Lions cut him.  Since there is no cap this year, the Lions can put the whole bonus into this season, and if the cap comes back, they won’t be handcuffed to Burleson if he doesn’t pan out.

I think the Burleson signing is risky and they overpaid, but if he can free Calvin from the constant double and triple teams who cares how much they paid?  The bulk of the bonus is up front and the high salaries are back loaded in the final years of the contract which he’ll never get even if he does pan out.  If Burleson busts, it won’t handicap the team going forward and if he pans out great.

The Vanden Bosch signing is a good one on all fronts.  The contract is structured like the Burleson deal to protect the Lions financially if/when the cap gets reinstated in 2011.  KVB knows the system, has a great work ethic, provides great leadership and he is an upgrade at an important position.

The Corey Williams trade addresses a huge need with very little cost.  Many fans don’t remember back in 2007 when Williams was with the Packers and was a disruptive force at defensive tackle.  He helped get that team to the NFC Championship game and racked up 6.0 sacks from the tackle position.  He was miscast as a 3-4 defensive end in Cleveland and he will return to tackle for the Lions.

After the initial flurry of day one of the new league year, I give the Lions a B-.  I am not thrilled with the Burleson signing, I would have preferred Kevin Walter who is a safer signing.  I’m not sure if Walter was ever an option, but the Burleson addition was riskier than I am comfortable with.  However, the biggest rewards come from big risks and Mayhew deserves the benefit of the doubt.  KVB is a solid addition, although I think he’s a short-term solution.  I would have loved to see the Lions pursue Aaron Kampman, but again, not sure if he was interested.  I am a big fan of the Corey Williams deal, and it only makes the addition of Suh or McCoy that much more impactful.

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