Burleson and Stafford say the decision to restructure was easy

Posted Mar 12, 2012

Nate Burleson was in New York with friends this past weekend when he received a call from the Lions about restructuring his contract.

For Burleson, a nine-year veteran who's never played in a Super Bowl, there was no hesitation to go ahead with the restructure.

"We got the paperwork done in one day," he said. "(The Lions) said they needed it by Tuesday. I caught a cab to the nearest Kinkos and made sure it got shipped out that day.

"Just like they would do what they can do to help us out, we're going to do what we can to help the organization."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh also agreed to restructure their contracts. The team was still working to finalize Suh's restructure Monday.

"We want to win and we want to win now and that's why guys are making those choices and, really, just doing what they say," Burleson said. "Probably – from Suh to Matthew – there was no hesitation, I'm assuming. Because when I got the call, I said, 'Yeah, tell me what you need me to do.'"

Burleson was due to make $4 million in base salary this season but has converted a bulk of that into a bonus. He will make $875,000 in base salary after the restructure and the rest will be paid in bonuses. He's saving the team a little more than $2 million.

Stafford is saving the team more than $7 million by converting his $11.5-million base salary to $615,000 with the rest shifting to a bonus that can be paid out over last three years of contract. His cap number went from $17 million to $10 million.

"Obviously, playing quarterback you want to have the most weapons around you and the best team to give yourself a chance to win, and if I can do a little thing and help out and create some cap space then I'm definitely going to do that to try and make our team better," Stafford said.

If Suh follows the same restructure as Stafford and Burleson, by taking a minimum salary and the rest as signing bonus, he can save the team an estimated $6 million.

This is the second time in as many years Stafford and Burleson have restructured their contracts. Stafford reportedly saved the team $6 million last season and Burleson nearly $1 million.

All three players, though, aren't giving anything back to the team – they're still getting the full amount of their contracts.

Players don't take a cut in pay. Instead, they convert base salary to signing bonus, allowing the team to lower a player's salary-cap number for that year.

"Anytime you have an opportunity to create a little space to bring in maybe one or maybe two more guys or maybe just re-sign some guy you didn't think you were going to be able to re-sign; when you make it to the playoffs you get a taste of how close you are and you never know what little thing can send your team over the edge," Stafford said.

"Hopefully re-signing a guy and getting a few guys signed you feel like you've helped."

The Lions would still like to re-sign free agent linebacker Stephen Tulloch, tackle Jeff Backus and cornerback Eric Wright, and the restructuring could help make that possible.

"The bigger picture is for us to be a contender and to bring a championship home," Burleson said.

"If restructuring a deal is going to help us do that, is going to free up maybe one, maybe two, maybe three million dollars, that's a small part of maybe bringing in a piece from the outside as a free agent or maybe even solidify a guy that's on the market that is on our team that we need to retain.

"It shows that we are a different team. Guys aren't just going into the locker room to collect a check."

The restructures, along with some other roster moves made Monday, helped the team get under the $120.6 million salary cap for the 2012 season by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline.

"Right now, I'm in a situation where I'm working out – just going out to prove that I'm the best No. 2 receiver in the NFL," Burleson said.

"I'm not working out in the back of my mind thinking, 'Will I be on the team next year?' Or 'Will I have to adjust my finances or start to put my nuts away for the fall?'

"I really do appreciate Martin (Mayhew) and the team for that because that really doesn't happen a lot. He likes to stay behind the scenes; he doesn't say much, he doesn't want a lot of credit, but I think he really should get a bigger pat on the back than he is getting because he's done a tremendous job, not only with putting the pieces together of this team, but keeping the line of communication open and that's very key."

Another move made Monday to help the Lions get further under the cap was releasing tight end Will Heller.

Heller, a nine-year veteran who spent the last three seasons with the Lions, had a cap number of more than $1 million for next season.

Heller started 22 games in three seasons in Detroit as the team's third tight end behind Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.