In the final year of the 'Quinntricia' era, the Lions had one of the oldest rosters in the NFL. In the first year of the Brad Holmes-Dan Campbell era, they led the league in dead cap money.
As they embark on year two under Holmes and Campbell after making final cuts on Tuesday, the Lions have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and about $45 million less in dead money. We call this progress.
This is actually the second straight season in which Detroit has the league's youngest 53-man roster, according to Spotrac, though that ranking continues to fluctuate as teams subtract and add players via waivers. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Lions had the second youngest roster with an average age of 25.35, a shade older than the Browns. They came in at 24.98 last year as they prioritized youth in the first season of a rebuild.
That came at a cost. After granting Matthew Stafford's trade request and then releasing veterans like Justin Coleman, Desmond Trufant and Jamie Collins, the Lions were on the hook for nearly as much dead cap money ($67.1 million) as active cap money ($76.5 million). They were first in the NFL in the former category and last in the latter.
A year later, things have leveled out. Stafford's dead money ($19 million) is off the books. So is that of Coleman and Trufant ($12 million combined). The only significant dead cap hit on the ledger is that of Trey Flowers ($12 million), who was released in March. With $22.5 million in dead money, the Lions are down to 16th in the NFL.
On the other side of the coin, the Lions have added active cap money, largely through existing contracts. Jared Goff's cap hit has jumped from $10.7 million to $33.2 million, the fifth highest in the NFL this season. Taylor Decker's has jumped from $4.9 million to $18.9 million. And several of the team's highest cap earners have returned from injured reserve, like Jeff Okudah ($9.1 million) and Frank Ragnow ($7.6 million). Romeo Okwara ($14.5 million) is one of the next in line. The Lions are up to $170 million in active cap money, 18th in the NFL.
All to say, the organization is starting to operate in sustainable fashion. Whether that translates to wins remains to be seen, and the need for more talent remains clear. But the Lions' roster has room to grow, their books are mostly in balance and their best players are back on the field, save Okwara and Jameson Williams. Holmes and Campbell only arrived a year ago. It feels like much longer than that since the reign of 'Quinntricia' came to an end.