Keep, Trade or Cut Every Player on the Detroit Lions' Roster
It's tempting to think that the only players who leave a team in the offseason are its free agents.
But that's just not true, especially for a salary cap-crippled team like the Detroit Lions. It is true that the Lions have a good chunk of their roster set to enter free agency this offseason, though, and you can see what my determinations are for those players right here.
But what about everyone else? Just being signed to a contract through 2013 is hardly any proof that a guy will actually still be on the roster come August.
Simply put, there are some guys on the roster that the Lions might not mind parting with. In many cases, the money doesn't match the output, and the Lions need to be very concerned with matching money to output this year, especially considering how underwhelming their 2012 season was.
So who on the Lions' roster is safe, and who is, shall way say, is vulnerable to change?
Remember, a lot of players are marked for free agency, and those guys aren't listed here, so keep that in mind before you ask, "but what about _____?"
In this piece, we will take a look at everyone else, position by position.
So let's start with the easiest one.
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Stafford has some issues, but nothing that can't be coached. He's a lot closer to the "elite" tier than he is to the cut list.
Hill is tempting to put in the "trade" category, but he was a lot more tempting as trade bait two years ago.
Now that Stafford is playing consistent minutes, nobody is paying attention to Hill, who is still solid, even on his worst day.
But nobody will be looking to give up anything significant for a backup quarterback, and nobody is likely to see him as a starter, especially given the recent influx of instant-starter rookie quarterbacks.
As for Moore... well, he's not hurting anybody. Clearly, the Lions don't feel good about keeping less than three quarterbacks, and Moore showed some limited growth last preseason. It will be interesting to see if he builds upon that growth this year.
If he doesn't, the Lions can cut him and look elsewhere later in 2014. It's not like they have much invested in him.
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This is an easy call.
Yes, the Lions want to keep their starting running back after his first year playing. Leshoure didn't break any records this year, but we're talking about a team that lost 12 games and set an NFL record for pass attempts.
Leshoure did what he could with the opportunities he had. He does need a speed compliment on the team, though. Which brings me to my next point.
I don't like it, the Lions don't like it, and Best certainly doesn't like it.
But Best suffered a concussion that has kept him out of all football action for a year and a half, and he still isn't cleared to return. One has to begin wondering about whether he ever will be.
Best himself is still as optimistic as ever about his chances to return, but Lions management is going to have to be more realistic. If Best isn't fully cleared by about the time of free agency or the draft, the Lions are going to have to find a replacement.
They can't survive another season of waiting for their only speed back to maybe make a return someday.
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Keeping Burleson may raise some eyebrows, but cutting the veteran leader of a group that was decimated by injuries this season seems like a bad call, especially when there's nobody to replace him.
And at his age (and recovering from a broken leg), Burleson is valuable trade bait to nobody.
Thomas is the most expendable player in the group, especially since he and Broyles play basically the same role. But again, this is a group for which depth was a serious problem in 2012, so why would they go out of their way to eliminate it?
Also, as for that Johnson guy, the Lions might consider holding onto the NFL record holder for receiving yards in a season.
It sounds like the Lions are trying to give Young a final chance to reform his ways, and that's no surprise because, after all, they did invest a high second-round pick into the guy less than two years ago.
They really want that decision to work out, especially considering the level of talent Young possesses.
But exhibiting such open insubordination as lining up in the wrong spot in a close game may be a sign that Young is way, way too far gone.
That, combined with his preseason scuffle with Louis Delmas—and the fact that the Lions actually tried giving him another chance after the line-up incident before shutting him down for the year—suggest that it's time to move on.
The Lions aren't a team that values the me-first mentality, especially from a young player who hasn't proven anything yet. This is their chance to prove it.
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These guys both need to work, for the entire offseason, on not dropping the football.
The Lions first few games, and perhaps the entire season, could have been very different were it not for an epidemic of dropped passes.
Pettigrew was one of the worst offenders of this, and Scheffler wasn't far behind.
That said, there's no reason for the Lions to look anywhere else for starting tight ends, though they might consider some new blood to replace the free agency-bound Will Heller.
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OT Jeff Backus
OT Riley Reiff
OG Rob Sims
C/G Bill Nagy
C Dominic Raiola
Get a good look, because this may be your starting lineup in 2013. Backus has a year left on what may be his final contract extension, and it's possible that the Lions may want to get Riley Reiff some additional starting experience before tossing him into the fire at left tackle.
Gosder Cherilus' impending free agency gives them the freedom to start Reiff at right tackle while Backus finishes up his contract.
Of course, it's also possible that the Lions think Reiff is ready for left tackle now, in which case, this gets more complicated.
Nagy was a shrewd pickup who started for the Dallas Cowboys before badly injuring his ankle. If he comes back healthy, he can play any interior position.
Stephen Peterman and Dominic Raiola are the two existing players most primed for replacement, but Raiola is the more pivotal cog, and he has more history with the team. Nagy may play guard this season and take over at center in 2014, much in the way Reiff may play right tackle this year and then left tackle next year.
OG Stephen Peterman
Peterman is overpaid and a chronic underperformer. He's consistent, but pretty much consistently below average.
He's also penalized way too much for a guard. As mentioned earlier, the Lions should be looking to replace either Peterman or Raiola this offseason. Peterman is just far easier to replace.
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DT Ndamukong Suh
DT Nick Fairley
DE Ronnell Lewis
Most of the Lions' defensive line is slated for free agency this year.
Luckily, the core of it is not.
Suh, who led all NFC defensive tackles in sacks and QB pressures, rebounded from a controversy-laden 2011 season and is the leader of the defensive line once again.
Fairley took advantage of the double-teams given to Suh, and began showing the potential that branded him a steal as the 13th overall pick in 2011.
Whoever ends up playing defensive end for the Lions next year is going to have plenty of help from the inside.
Lewis was a non-factor last year, but he's also a fourth-round rookie in the midst of a position change. He should still be given some time.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
It's no secret that Vanden Bosch's production has been slipping.
The man has made up for underwhelming athletic ability with an overwhelming motor for basically his entire career, and that's becoming less viable now that he's 35 years old.
The Lions have kept him around to this point because of the intangible quality of leadership, but where exactly was that leadership last season?
When things were falling apart in the middle of the year, where was the steadying hand from within the locker room? Vanden Bosch was invisible, both on and off the field, last season, and that's reason enough to move on from him at this point.
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MLB Stephen Tulloch
OLB Tahir Whitehead
OLB Travis Lewis
Easy decisions here, especially since Tulloch just finished the first year of a five-year contract extension and led the team in tackles for the second consecutive year.
Lewis and Whitehead haven't had much opportunity to show their stuff on defense yet, but they're both promising rookies who contribute on special teams.
Depending on how things go in free agency, the Lions may be relying on one of them to move into a bigger role on defense to compensate for the potential loss of Justin Durant or DeAndre Levy.
There's no reason to cut anybody at linebacker right now, since Tulloch is the leader of the defense, and there's no salary cap space to be reclaimed elsewhere. All the excitement at this position is happening in free agency.
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CB Bill Bentley
CB Chris Greenwood
CB Jonte Green
S Don Carey
As it turns out, the rookies drafted in 2012 will pretty much be the only Lion cornerbacks still under contract come March. Each of them has shown some sort of promise, and they all need more than a single season to develop before the Lions can make a determination on them.
Don Carey has been floating around Detroit for a couple years now, seemingly in a constant cycle of being cut and re-signed. This year, though, he started six games, including one against the Indianapolis Colts in which he intercepted Andrew Luck twice.
Of course, those were Carey's only interceptions on the season, and the Lions lost that game largely because of shoddy secondary play. So maybe it's not a great example.
Still, these are all young guys who aren't going anywhere until they've had some time to prove themselves. The rest of the secondary is in complete flux (read: free agency)
CB Ron Bartell
Bartell was one of those emergency-type signings the Lions did late in the season just to keep the position staffed.
He played a pretty reasonable game considering the circumstances, and he's signed through next season, but it's hard to say if the Lions consider him a long-term option.
With all the promising rookies on the team, and the likely rebuild the secondary is about to go through, it's hard to see the Lions going out of their way to make a spot for Bartell going forward.