Rumors and predictions regarding Tony Scheffler's future with the Detroit Lions have been a hot topic of conversation this offseason, and with good reason. The seven-year veteran faces stiff competition from undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria during training camp.
By now, most fans know who Fauria is and that he has the same skill set as Scheffler but scads more potential. Fauria has impressed during OTAs, so it's no surprise that he's a legitimate contender to win a roster spot.
If the Lions determine that Fauria is a keeper, conventional wisdom suggests that Scheffler would most likely be the player sacrificed. Brandon Pettigrew is the No. 1, and the Lions aren't going to part ways with Michael Williams, who they just drafted.
Scheffler is vulnerable for a number of reasons.
He carries nearly a $3 million cap hit this season, and it's the final year of his contract.
It would make sense to keep Fauria, save some money and increase cap space.
The Lions don't make a habit of keeping tight ends on their roster. There's good reason to believe they wouldn't start this year.
Scheffler has been a valuable player for the Lions, particularly in their two-tight end set. However, he had a down year last season, scoring only one touchdown, and he's not getting any younger.
Now might be a good time to cut ties with him.
The Lions Have What the Patriots Need
Releasing Scheffler in favor of Fauria isn't the only option.
It might be the most realistic one, if Fauria proves to be NFL-ready, but not the only one.
The New England Patriots offense has been decimated by the loss of two starting tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Gronkowski has suffered a series of unfortunate medical events this offseason, namely forearm and back surgeries, which have been well-documented by Stephania Bell of EPSN. He won't be ready for Week 1 and he'll probably start the season on the PUP list.
In other words, who knows when he'll return?
Aaron Hernandez's future with the Patriots is a whole lot clearer.
He has none. He was released following his arrest for murder, according to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
According to ESPN's stats department, the two tight ends accounted for 3,510 yards receiving and 40 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
The Patriots have fallen in love with the two- tight end system and they run it to perfection, but they need weapons to make that system go. Unfortunately, they have no one on their roster to replace Gronk or Hernandez.
Many fans simply believe that the genius of Bill Belichick and the supreme talent of Brady will rescue the Patriots from this predicament. Others might think Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and rookie Brandon Ford can pick up the slack.
If you believe that I've got some swampland I'd like to sell you.
The Patriots are clearly in trouble on the offensive side of the ball and the Lions actually have the cure for what ails them—spare tight ends.
Tony Scheffler vs. Brandon Pettigrew
The Lions currently have four tight ends on their roster—Scheffler, Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew and Michael Williams—and I explained why Scheffler might be vulnerable to losing his roster spot.
He's also vulnerable to being traded to the Patriots.
Gronk and Hernandez were offensive weapons that could stretch the field and Scheffler has the same skill set, albeit less big-play ability. Then again, with Brady throwing him the ball, who knows?
Scheffler could be what the Patriots are looking for, but if the Lions are going to trade him they would want to get something in return. What could they expect for Scheffler? A sixth-round pick? Maybe a fifth?
That's not great value.
On the other hand, the Lions' No. 1 tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, might command much more in a trade. The former first-round pick is only 28 years old and he still carries that which is most valuable: potential.
Trade Impact on the Lions
Before you scoff at the notion of trading Pettigrew, first think about what he brings to the table; or better yet what the Lions would be losing. He is a versatile tight end who is a proficient blocker and can catch 70-80 balls a year (although he caught only 59 in 2012).
He's also responsible for his share of fumbles, drops and knucklehead plays each and every year and he's proven to be ineffective in the red zone—averaging only 3.5 touchdowns per year.
Does this description sound like what the Lions wanted when they invested the 20th pick in the 2009 draft on him?
Of course it doesn't.
How many more offseasons should the Lions hold out hope that this will be his "breakout" year?
He's a good player, but he's not great. He's not an impact player like the Lions hoped. Most importantly, he's not irreplaceable.
Pettigrew has potential. He has tools, but he's also been a liability and that's enough to make the Lions wonder if he'll ever reach his potential. That's why, given the situation with the Patriots, now is the time to get what they can for him.
If Fauria's as good as everyone says he is, then the Lions should keep him. He and Scheffler could pick up the offensive slack in Pettigrew's absence, and the rookie Williams could fill in as the blocking tight end.
What could the Lions get for Pettigrew? It seems ludicrous to think that anyone would spend a first-round pick on him. Then again, Martin Mayhew was able to get a first- and a third-round pick for Roy Williams in 2008.
So I guess it's not so ludicrous after all.
It all depends on how desperate the Patriots are. More than likely the Lions could expect a second-round pick or a package of lower picks in exchange for Pettigrew.
Either way, it would be better than what they would get for Scheffler and it would set them up nicely for the future. As everyone knows, adding additional draft picks is the first step in how to build a winner in the NFL.
I'll be the first to admit that this trade scenario is a long-shot and realistically the Lions will probably start Week 1 of the regular season with both Pettigrew and Scheffler on their roster. Several things need to happen to make a trade like this possible.
Fauria needs to prove he can play for real—with pads on—and the Patriots need to leave the door open for trade offers.
If those things happen, then the Lions shouldn't be so attached to Pettigrew that they wouldn't consider trading him. He's an underperformer and it would be a golden opportunity to build for the future.
Something the Lions haven't always been successful at.
Change is scary and there is risk associated with any trade, but if the Lions can get real value for Pettigrew it would be too good to pass up.
He's certainly not untouchable.