A lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans seem to be excited on Monday after reports surfaced that former Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas is visiting the Steel City. What many don’t realize, however, is that Lions gambled and won last season with the former second-round draft pick, and that the Steelers would likely have to gamble quite a bit as well should they ultimately wind up signing him.
Delmas was an unrestricted free agent last offseason after playing in just eight games in 2012 because of an ongoing knee problem, that several seem to think is degenerative in nature. After getting looks from the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers at the beginning of the free agency signing period, Delmas ultimately re-signed with a Lions on a two-year deal worth a max of $9.465 million.
So how did the Lions gamble and win with Delmas? For starters, Delmas’ contract was very incentive laden with play-time incentives and included a 2013 minimum base salary of $715,000, and a $1 million signing bonus. As Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reported shortly after Delmas re-signed, the 2013 incentives were to kick in when Delmas participated in at least 42 percent of the Lions’ defensive plays. In other words, he would receive $109,375 for every game that he was on the 46-man active game roster with the opportunity of earning an additional $1.75 million if he were to appear in all 16 regular-season games.
The above is an example of a NLTBE (not likely to be earned) incentive as far as cap cost goes. Why? Because Delmas only participated in 41.97 percent of the Lions’ defensive snaps in 2012. As far as his 2013 cap charge goes, he only counted $1.215 million. Yes, Delmas played in all 16 games and because of that, the Lions will be debited $1.75 million against their 2014 salary cap.
So could the Steelers sign Delmas to an incentive laden contract like the Lions did? Yes, they could, but any incentives tied to playing time would be counted as LTBE (likely to be earned) as the safety played nearly every defensive snap in 2013. For example, if the Steelers gave Delmas the same kind of per game incentive, they would have to account for the full amount in their 2014 salary cap being as it is deemed likely to be earned. If at the end of the season he didn’t meet the incentives, they would receive a cap credit in 2015 for the difference.
If the Lions thought Delmas’ knee was no longer a big issue, they likely wouldn’t have cut him. Had they kept him, they would’ve had to pay him a $5.5 million base salary and a $500,000 roster bonus in 2014 without any incentives attached. You see what they thought about that idea.
As previously mentioned, Delmas, while he played in all 16 games last season for the Lions, he was also on their injury report every week of the season and listed as questionable 15 out of 16 games. In addition, it wasn’t uncommon for him to only practice one day a week because of his knee issue.
Now, put yourself in Delmas’ shoes for a minute. After proving in 2013 that he could play in every game, would you want another incentive laden contract this season? Maybe that’s all he will get when the smoke clears, but I certainly expect that he will be making the rounds and visiting with several doctors of interested teams before finally signing. The Steelers just happen to be the first.