Detroit Lions: Predicting Which Players on 45-Man Roster Won't Be Back Next Year

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IFebruary 16, 2012

Detroit Lions: Predicting Which Players on 45-Man Roster Won't Be Back Next Year

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    The Detroit Lions made the playoffs last season for the first time in over a decade, and they were healthy enough to play almost all of their starters in that game against the Saints.

    That's the good news. The bad news is some of their depth players looked like they belonged on the Rams' practice squad.

    Though the Lions rolled into the playoffs with a relatively healthy starting lineup, several of those players are hitting the free-agent market, and several role players on the bench were only there because of deeper injuries.

    So while there will undoubtedly be less turnover in 2012 than there was in 2011 (and certainly years before that), it stands to reason that there will be a fair amount of difference between the 45 men the Lions took into the Superdome in January and the 45 men they will take into opening day of 2012.

    Here are some likely candidates to find work (or not) elsewhere in the next seven months.

Don Carey

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    Did you remember that this 24-year-old Norfolk State product took the field for the Lions last year?

    He did for five games, and the impression he left was lackluster. The Lions have plenty of young corners who may or may not develop well already.

    Carey might hang on through training camp next year, but if the Lions draft or sign a new cornerback, who's going to get cut to make room: Carey or Alphonso Smith?

Ashlee Palmer

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    Ashlee Palmer hasn't been bad as a reserve player. He's decent on special teams, and even played a bit of effective defense in 2010.

    I don't know about his prospects for 2012, though. Palmer hasn't been bad, but he certainly hasn't been good. He was an effective placeholder for a team that needed somebody to fill a roster spot at linebacker/special teamer.

    But the Lions are beyond this now. No longer do they need to retain players who are just... there. They could easily replace Palmer with another player who has either more immediate value or more upside. 

    And that's not because Palmer is a bad player. It's just because the Lions are a better team.

Rashied Davis

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    Rashied Davis had a pretty average Rashied Davis season for the Lions in 2011.

    Four receptions, 63 yards and a bit of intangible special teams value.

    Davis' primary value is on special teams, not as a receiver, but I've been saying for a while that the Lions are getting too good as a team to eat up roster spots on career special teamers who are only serviceable in the role.

    Davis fits that description, and I have a hard time seeing a situation where he doesn't get replaced by a younger player in 2012. Even if it turns out to be an undrafted free agent, what he lacks in immediate special teams value he will most likely make up in potential upside.

Stefan Logan

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    I might have just said this, but the Lions are too good a team to spend roster spots on players who are exclusively special teamers, unless they're among the best.

    Had you asked me a year ago, I would have said that Stefan Logan was among the league's best kick returners. But good kick returners come and go like the tides (Dante Hall, anyone?), and Logan didn't show nearly enough last season to justify his spot.

    Furthermore, aside from a couple of inconsistently effective gadget plays, Logan brings no value to the offense.

    This is an easy fix for the Lions, as all they have to do is draft a cornerback or receiver with some return skills. I don't mean to downplay the value of a good returner—the star returners are truly rare—but Logan was barely effective last year, much less a star.

    If the Lions are going to accept that kind of production from their returners, they might as well get it from someone who is also a position player.

Stephen Peterman

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    Of the names on this list, I'm least confident in this one.

    A lot needs to happen to give Peterman the bump from the roster, but it basically boils down to the Lions drafting an elite-level center or guard prospect this April.

    According to Rotoworld, Peterman is slated to bring down about $2.725 million in 2012. That's a lot of money that could go elsewhere if the Lions have their next great interior lineman, and he's starting quality.

    Even if the Lions draft Peter Konz or another elite center prospect, I doubt they will start him at center immediately. Though he is arguably less effective physically than Peterman, Raiola is far more valuable for his mind and understanding of the game.

    Don't get me wrong, Raiola needs to be replaced, too, but it won't be as easy. He's a mental cog who would do a great deal of good as a mentor to his replacement.

    And while said replacement is learning the ropes, it would be a waste to bench either him or Raiola, so what's the alternative? Play the new kid at guard. And which guard? The Lions won't bench Rob Sims, their best overall offensive lineman.

    So the Lions will bench Peterman, and given that he's a mid-30's veteran with an injury history and a big salary against the salary cap, there is no reason for the Lions to pay for him to stay on the bench. They'd rather keep Dylan Gandy on the league minimum as an emergency reserve player.

    Yeah, it's a really specific scenario with a lot of moving parts, but you can't tell me it isn't possible, or that it doesn't actually make some sense.

Stephen Tulloch

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    I know this one stings to think about, and I frankly hope I'm wrong about this. But somebody is going to have to tell me where the money comes from if the Lions are going to re-sign Stephen Tulloch.

    By some projections, the Lions are already over the salary cap without signing anybody. There was a reason the Lions signed everybody to one- and two-year deals last season. They knew this Cap Armageddon was coming, and they signed who they could while limiting the damage.

    If they had the money to sign Tulloch to a long-term deal, don't you think they would have last season, when they had his ear in the first place? It's not like his talent and production were ever in doubt.

    The fact is, even if the Lions get creative with some restructuring deals and frugal cuts, Tulloch is still most likely going to have to take a pay cut to continue playing in Detroit.

    Now, for once, that's not out of the question. It's a better time to be a Detroit Lion now than it usually is, what with a stable coaching staff and playoff prospects in place.

    But money is money, and Tulloch deserves a lot of it. Sure, the guy has a year in Detroit, and maybe he even feels like he's part of something special. 

    But put yourself in his shoes. Would you rather keep your job where you like your coworkers, or have an extra zero at the end of your paycheck in a new place where you might also like your coworkers?

Maurice Morris

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    You feel for the guy, because all Maurice Morris does is whatever he's asked to do.

    He sits, permanently last on the depth chart, watching as the running backs ahead of him get injured. And then finally, just when his number is called (by process of elimination), the Lions go out and sign someone else.

    This year, it was Kevin Smith. And Smith actually did Morris' job better than Morris did.

    I don't foresee a starting role for Smith next season, not with Mikel Leshoure and (maybe) Jahvid Best returning. What do I foresee is him doing Morris' job, only being younger and faster in it.

    And I know I have predicted the end of Maurice Morris in Detroit for a couple of years running, but this time it's a lot more likely. Morris is a free agent, and the Lions have not said word one about bringing him back.

Ben Graham

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    Ben Graham was a hell of a punter for the Lions in the time he was with the team.

    His lefty end-over-end style caused a number of muffed catches, and he combined with John Wendling to down a bunch of kicks inside the 10-yard line.

    That being said, Graham is 38 years old, and the Lions didn't cut veteran Nick Harris for the veteran Graham, they cut him for the promising rookie Ryan Donahue. I know age isn't really all that important for punters, but age is important for every athlete when that age is around 40.

    Meanwhile, Donahue didn't actually do anything wrong last year. He was having a fine season; he just got injured. It would be different if Donahue got injured after being a total screw-up for half the season.

    He was fine, he just needs to get better.

Eric Wright

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    Opinions vary on Eric Wright's level of effectiveness in 2011, but there's one thing we can all agree on: If he is still the Lions' starting cornerback in 2012, something went wrong.

    I don't know if the Lions are going to go after a draft pick or a free agent to fill the void opposite Chris Houston, but it will be one of the two, because if the Lions' 2012 starting cornerback is already on the roster, there are serious problems.

    Don't get me wrong, Wright was serviceable for 2011 as a short-term fix to a long-term problem, but anybody who still thinks of Wright as a potential long-term solution must be working for the Colts.

Shaun Hill

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    It seems like 2011 was the year of the backup quarterback.

    Every week, all around the league, somebody was showing us the value of a solid backup quarterback, for better or worse.

    Vince Young tanked in relief for Michael Vick in Philadelphia.

    The Bears choked on their own bile with Caleb Hanie at the helm.

    I don't even know who played for the Chiefs when Matt Cassel went down.

    And then there's the Indianapolis Colts, whose entire 2011 campaign should be a cautionary tale to anyone looking to ignore the value of a backup quarterback.

    Meanwhile, T.J. Yates led the Texans to their first ever playoff berth (and win), Matt Flynn exploded when his number was called and Tim Tebow...did whatever Tim Tebow does.

    In fact, one of the only teams that didn't call on more than one starting quarterback during the season was the Lions. But from seasons past, we know Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton are more than capable of (at least) game managing when the situation arises.

    There are a lot of teams out there in need of a new starting quarterback, and I don't think either Hill or Stanton fit that bill. But after seeing the difference between a team with a solid backup quarterback and a team with a clipboard-holding ball-thrower, I have a feeling the backup quarterback market will heat up a little this year.

    Which brings me to Hill. Hill and Stanton are both free agents this year, but there's a key difference between them. Stanton hasn't played football for a team outside Michigan since his sophomore year of high school, and he doesn't appear willing to try.

    Hill, on the other hand, is most likely going to go where the money is good.

    Translation: Hill and Stanton hit free agency. Hill finds a lucrative deal elsewhere, Stanton turns his offers down to come back to Detroit like a boomerang.

    And if the past is any indication, he'll still be the third-string quarterback.