With the coaching situation still unresolved after Jim Schwartz's firing, uncertainty abounds for the Detroit Lions.
Some of that uncertainty involves players on the roster bubble. Between a new coaching regime and a pressing need to trim salaries to get under the salary cap, there could be several veterans on the chopping block.
Players whose contracts expire at the conclusion of the 2013 season are not included here. Should the Lions wish to bring back players like Don Carey, Rashean Mathis and Brandon Pettigrew, more of these roster bubbles must be burst.
Here are a few 2013 Detroit Lions who might be playing in different uniforms in 2014.
All salary information here is courtesy of Spotrac unless otherwise indicated.
If the new head coach is looking to make a big splash, cutting starting safety Louis Delmas would certainly make some waves.
As Lions insider Tim Twentyman hinted recently, it's not a given Delmas returns:
Delmas is due $6.5 million total in 2014, the final year of his contract. Cutting him would save $5.5 million, the portion of his contract which is not guaranteed bonus money.
He's the emotional leader of the defense and one of the more active safeties in the league. After missing 13 games over the prior two seasons, Delmas started every game in 2013. In fact, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Delmas played the second-most snaps of any Lions defender.
While his salary is a bit of an albatross, it's hard to see the Lions parting with a quality starting safety with no viable replacement waiting in the wings.
It's more likely the team approaches Delmas about a short contract extension to guarantee him more money while spreading out the cap hit over a couple of extra seasons.
This one is a no-brainer. Veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson has even acknowledged the cold reality of the business of the NFL.
Either he takes a significant pay cut, or else he's out.
As Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News notes, Burleson sees the writing on the wall:
"I’m not attached to a dollar sign,” Burleson said. “I’d rather take less money and help some other guys get paid and stay with the team that I like, stay in a city I like and finish off in a place where I get love and I give love back."
He will have to take a lot less money to remain in Detroit. Burleson is due $5.5 million in 2014, the final year of his contract. He already reduced his salary last season, which means his guaranteed figure is a little over $2 million.
Like Delmas, Burleson's strong leadership presence does carry some value. In his case, it's arguably more than he has to offer on the field anymore. A new coaching regime might not want to pay Burleson for that, even at a reduced price tag.
It's easy to forget that running back Mikel Leshoure is still a Lion.
The third-year Illinois product got exactly two carries in 2013, a season after scoring nine touchdowns while producing just over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Signing Reggie Bush relegated Leshoure to competing for the backup role, where the powerful emergence of Joique Bell seized that role. For most of the season he was a game-day inactive behind rookie Theo Riddick.
As Pro Football Talk noted recently, Leshoure wants the ball once again.
Unlike the others here, Leshoure does have some viable trade value. He's a fairly productive former starting running back signed for just over $1 million in 2014. His legs are fresh after barely playing last season, through no real fault of his own.
The Lions will definitely put out trade feelers before severing ties with Leshoure, though it seems extremely unlikely he will be back in Detroit.
Could the Lions really dump starting corner Chris Houston just one year after signing him to a five year, $25 million contract?
The better question might be, why wouldn't they dump him?
No, cutting Houston would not save the Lions any cap room in 2014. In fact, it's cheaper to keep him; the "dead money" (guaranteed bonuses and money) figure for the upcoming season is $5.2 million, while his actual cap figure is just $4.8 million.
The problem is that he's the worst performer at a position where younger, cheaper alternatives with higher potential are already in place.
Detroit has a host of recent draft picks that represent the best chance for improvement in coverage. Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood all flashed legit NFL talent at times in 2014. Preseason pickup Rashean Mathis dramatically outplayed Houston, and he could come back for less money than the Lions owe Houston.
With a fairly deep cornerback draft class, the Lions will have an opportunity to add even more younger and cheaper talent with greater promise to the roster.
The new coaching staff could very well opt to go with the youth movement, and that would spell the disappointing end of Chris Houston in Detroit.
Defensive end Jason Jones is one of the biggest question marks on the Lions roster.
Jones was a free agent targeted because of his connection to Jim Schwartz. The Lions signed him from Seattle for three years and $9.5 million.
Cutting Jones would save $2 million in 2014 and over $3 million in 2015.
Yet there are compelling reasons to keep him:
- He turns 29 this week (Jan. 12th), which means he's still young enough to fully recover.
- Jones can play both end and tackle, bringing versatility to a line lacking depth inside
- He has a history of alternating great years and bad years. He's due for the former.
- It might cost more to replace him with a comparable veteran.
- His replacement, Willie Young, is a free agent looking for a big payday.
As noted on the team's official website, Jones is progressing in his rehab and is looking forward to 2014. Whether the new coaching staff opts to keep a player with strong ties to the old regime will determine if Jones spends next season in Detroit or elsewhere.
The picture here tells a thousand words.
When Lions fans think of Montell Owens, the only real images they have are of the hybrid running back/fullback being carted off the field with knee injuries.
Injuries, as in plural.
Owens injured his knee in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve with designation to return. In the first drive of his first game back, Owens reinjured the same knee and was lost for the year.
Detroit would save exactly $1 million by releasing Owens. That's a lot of savings to justify cutting a role player coming off a major injury. It would be more surprising if he is in Detroit in 2014.
Reserve offensive lineman Leroy Harris signed a two-year, $3 million deal last offseason.
For that investment, the Lions might never see a single snap on the field.
Harris was a Jim Schwartz favorite from their days in Tennessee together. With Schwartz gone, there is no compelling reason for Harris to stick around for almost $2 million in 2014.
His only hope, and it's not far-fetched, is if the Lions decide to settle the vacant center position battle with in-house candidates. Harris and Rodney Austin are currently the only centers on the roster, with Dominic Raiola headed for free agency and perhaps retirement.
This much is certain: the Detroit Lions will not pay a reserve interior lineman $1.85 million to be an insurance policy.