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Calvin Johnson’s $21 million cap number ties Lions’ hands

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Yes, the Lions have receiver Calvin Johnson under contract for one more year. Yes, they’d like to extend his contract.

But the reality is that they need to.

Johnson’s cap number for 2012, according to a source with knowledge of the contract, exceeds $21 million. That figure comes from a $14 million base salary, a $4.5 million roster bonus due on March 14, and slightly more than $2.5 million in allocations from past bonuses payments.

A new contract could dramatically reduce the cap number, while also giving Johnson a significant chunk of money right now -- and promises of even more money in future years.

Still, Johnson has all the leverage. With $18.5 million due in 2012 and a franchise tender of $25.2 million for 2013 (based on 120 percent of his 2012 cap number), Johnson already is due to pocket more than $43.7 million over the next two seasons.

So how much guaranteed money on a multi-year deal will that justify?

Working against Johnson’s potential payday is the importance of having the cap space to keep and attract other talented players. Calvin suffered through the days of 0-16, and he surely is enjoying the fact that the Lions are winning. If he squeezes every last cent out of the Lions, they may have a hard time getting to the next level(s).

Even with a new deal for Johnson, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, the Lions face challenges on several fronts. They need to find ways to keep their impending free agents (like defensive end Cliff Avril), and they need to be able to chase players from other teams to upgrade the roster, especially in the secondary.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press joined PFT Live on Tuesday to discuss the struggles that success has brought to the franchise. Among other things, he said that receiver Nate Burleson and defensive lineman Corey Williams could be cut as the Lions scramble to comply with the cap while also becoming even more competitive.