Detroit Lions: Veterans Put on Notice This Offseason
The oft-stated phrase that "NFL" stands for "Not For Long" isn't just true. It's a warning for veterans everywhere.
The Detroit Lions have five that should be looking over their shoulders this offseason.
Sometimes the notice comes via a short-term deal or the acquisition of a rival player. Sometimes it's the absence of a contract.
Regardless of the cause, the following veterans will have no beef if they fail to man up and handle their business.
They've been forewarned.
Tight End Brandon Pettigrew
The Lions didn't draft Eric Ebron with a desire to replace Brandon Pettigrew. Frankly, Ebron doesn't have the skill set.
Yet it should send the message that Pettigrew's receiving skills aren't highly valued anymore.
The presence of Ebron, Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams makes for an extremely crowded depth chart at tight end. While Pettigrew's four-year contract makes him safe this year, he will only be carrying $3 million in dead money after this season.
This means Detroit could cut ties with him cheaply if he doesn't step it up.
The message might seem a bit muddled with all the talk regarding Ebron holding down the Jimmy Graham role and Pettigrew handling the more traditional duties. And out of every player on this particular list, Pettigrew seems the best bet to last.
However, his blocking might not save him. Broken down to his numbers, Pettigrew hasn't been making the grade. While his overall PFF metric improved from -8.4 to -8.0, his run-blocking score tumbled 6.5 points to a terrible -9.1.
If he can't hold onto the ball (he has 13 drops the past two years) and he isn't blocking, why is he beating out the above-mentioned Williams?
Even if he does, it's much easier to find a blocking tight end than an athletic one that can line up all over the field.
Linebacker Ashlee Palmer
As subtle as the notice may be for Pettigrew, the opposite is true for linebacker Ashlee Palmer.
General manager Martin Mayhew might as well hire a Paul Revere impersonator to storm into Palmer's kitchen screaming, "Kyle Van Noy is coming!"
Palmer assumed the strong-side linebacker position by default after Justin Durant went to the Dallas Cowboys. After a serviceable career as a backup, the role was too big for Palmer.
The coaching staff only kept him on the field for 367 snaps. He didn't do anything during that short showing to warrant another year at the top of the depth chart, grading out as a slightly below average linebacker at -1.5.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin got the versatile linebacker he needed in Van Noy.
The BYU product can stuff the run, rush the passer and drop into coverage, making him a lock to log at least twice as many snaps as Palmer did last year.
Palmer has all but lost his starting role to Van Noy, but he'll likely keep a roster spot due to his value as a rotating backup. "Likely" doesn't mean "certain," though.
Wide Receiver Kris Durham
This offseason, there was no bigger need for Detroit than finding reliable receivers who can create separation.
The duo of Kris Durham and Kevin Olgetree gave it a shot in 2013, but their performances were as impressive as a Dwight Howard free throw.
At least Howard connected on 54.7 percent of his free throws. Last season, Durham only managed to bring in 46.3 percent of his targets.
But Howard can play defense and rebound; if Durham could switch sides and hold down a corner spot, he would have a fighting chance of seeing some playing time.
As it stands now, Durham will have to fight just to stay on the roster.
Head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi didn't bring Durham into the fold, and as those charged with getting quarterback Matthew Stafford to grow and to shake off old habits, they might view taking away his college buddy as a good thing.
Wide receiver Ryan Broyles could be mentioned here as well. He's probably aware that if he doesn't prove he can both stay on the field and be productive, his roster spot will go to somebody that can, like rookies Ebron or T.J. Jones.
Fullback Jed Collins
It appears the honeymoon between Lombardi and recently-signed fullback Jed Collins is over.
As soon as Collins had unpacked his bags, Lombardi was arguing with Chad Abram about who should hang up the phone first.
The Lions haven't used a fullback since Jerome Felton left for Minnesota. Now they have two who are capable of holding down the position.
Collins' advantage will be his familiarity with Lombardi from their time in New Orleans. He's also entering his fourth year and knows what is necessary to survive in the league.
However, Abram might be a better fit in both Detroit's short- and long-term plans. At 240 pounds, Abram is 15 pounds lighter, but he has a serious advantage with his 4.58 speed, per NFLDraftScout.com. Collins hauled in 14 catches over the last two years with the Saints. Abram had nine catches with three scores in 2013 alone.
It's a stretch for the Lions to carry two fullbacks into the regular season, meaning Collins will have to beat out the physically-gifted rookie if he wants to keep his job.
Defensive Tackle Nick Fairley
When Nick Fairley fell to the Lions at the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, it seemed that the heavens had opened and bestowed a gift upon the Lions or—even more aptly—that hell had spawned a duo at defensive tackle so nasty that the rest of the league would suffer their reign for the next decade.
So far, not so good.
Fairley has had moments of dominance, like his game-winning tackle of Matt Forte last season. Don't forget, though, that Detroit's need for that stop was the result of Fairley's late hit on Jay Cutler earlier that same drive.
Pro Football Focus backs up this assessment. Fairley put together five games where he posted at least a grade of 1.0 or higher but also graded out at a -1.0 or lower in four games.
Detroit has followed that up-and-down performance with an easy-to-read warning. He was first put on notice when Detroit declined to pick up his fifth-year option. This message was solidified by the selection of Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid in the fifth round.
Reid must impress to enter the rotation in 2014, but his ability to hold up against the run and also penetrate the pocket (20.5 sacks in college) make him a viable replacement should Detroit let Fairley walk next offseason.
Fairley excelled in his senior season at Auburn because he had a chance to grab the No. 1 spot in the draft. If he wants to find a long-term deal with serious money from the Lions or anyone else, he'll need to replicate that effort.
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions featured columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.
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