Star players clogging up Lions' salary cap

Star players clogging up Lions' salary cap

The Detroit Lions' high-profile quartet of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive end Cliff Avril represents some of the elite young players in the NFL at their respective positions. It's also an incredibly expensive group. And that presents a dilemma for the Lions.

The players are projected to combine for roughly half of the Lions' salary cap of nearly $120 million for next season should Avril be designated as the franchise player.

If Avril is franchised at a price tag of $10.6 million, the salary cap total for him, Johnson, Suh and Stafford adds up to $61.624 million, according to league sources with knowledge of the situation.

Johnson's deal could use restructuring to lessen his salary cap impact and also secure his services for the future.

The imposing wide receiver is due a $14 million base salary for 2012 and carries a $21.081 salary-cap figure.

Stafford is due $11.5 million in base salary next season and has a $17.098 million salary cap figure.

And Suh is due a $9.25 million salary and has a $12.845 million salary cap figure for next season.

While all four players are very productive and valuable, the Lions' star system in terms of compensation is unwieldy.

In the case of Johnson, Suh and Stafford, it's also a byproduct of drafting so high for several years before the current system of paying rookies came into effect.

Stafford was the top overall pick, and Suh and Johnson both were drafted second overall.

A former third-round draft pick from Purdue, Avril had a breakthrough season last year as he led the Lions with a career-high 11 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Now, he's due a significant increase in pay after playing last season under a $2.61 million restricted tender.

The team has conducted talks with Avril's agent, Brian Mackler, but negotiations are progressing slowly.

If Avril makes it to the open market, he figures to be one of the most sought after unrestricted free agents.

In four NFL seasons, Avril has recorded 30 sacks and 14 forced fumbles.

For more coverage of the NFL, go to profootball.scout.com.

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