Training camp is just around the corner, and the battles for a spot on this Lion team will be a little more interesting than usual.
Used to be we could lop 40 guys off the 80-man training camp roster and hope to pick up some decent players waived off better teams.
Things are changing around here lately. Maybe teams won't be scouring our waived players, but the Lions should be a little less desperate to add players this year.
With the exception of safety, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz appear to have plans A, B, and sometimes C in place for every position.
That doesn't mean they won't be looking to improve the talent—that's a never-ending process. It does mean that plan A is not the 54th-best player on the Steelers or Patriots.
With that increased depth and options come some interesting decisions, and I am going to try to identify some players whose futures could tell us something about where the Lions are with the building process.
These seven players are not the worst players. In fact, they are decent players—the kind of player that every team has penciled in as plan B and C at this time of the year.
These are usually veteran players that the team has on hand as a bottom line, and their future depends more on how another player is doing than how well they are playing.
You know, the position may be unsettled, but if all else fails, we know the production won't fall below what player X can give us.
While we may be fine with most of these players making the roster, we should hope they don't.
We should be hoping some rookie showed too much promise to expose to waivers or some player suddenly gets it after he had a couple of years under his belt and shakes up the depth chart.
In simple terms, we want them cut not because they are bad, but because the Lions simply had better options.
While many of us will hate to see some of them go, just try to remember it will only make us better in the long run.
It's not personal. It's progress.
Probably not going to elicit a lot of tears out of Lion fans if he is cut.
A huge disappointment last year and a prime example of a team who had to go to a plan B by raiding another team when plan A, rookie Derrick Williams, showed he was not ready to handle the punt return role.
The addition of Nate Burleson all but eliminates any chance Northcutt has to make an impact in the offense, and I don't believe they would keep him as a fourth WR only.
That leaves punt returner, and as Lion fans we have to hope that at least either Williams or Tim Toone seizes that role this year. If not, don't be shocked if the Lions keep Northcutt around.
Chances he is cut?
I'd put that at 70 percent. Maybe not as high as some would like it, but unless they have an answer at punt returner, they would have to keep him.
At least until they can find another option.
Only way this happens is if:
1. Kevin Smith is healthy. Morris has to be the third down back if Smith isn't ready. He is the only other running back who can pick up a blitz.
2. Jahvid Best is ready. If Best can't take around 200 carries this year, Morris will have to take up the slack.
3. Aaron Brown has to step up his game big time. The coaches would have to feel very comfortable with Brown playing a little RB to let Morris go.
Even if all three of those things happen, they might still keep Morris, but it sure would be a good sign if they can't find the room to keep him.
Chance he is cut?
Okay, I know naming two guys is cheating, but we would need both cut if we want to see improvement.
Hard to imagine a scenario where both are cut. With this defensive backfield there will be a pretty strong desire for a veteran backup at least.
But what if someone like Ko Simpson takes over that spot next to Louis Delmas, or maybe they move Dre' Bly back there. Maybe they make a move through a trade, and now they want to keep a bunch of these young DBs they have in camp.
Both of these players are decent players, but you don't want them starting for you, and in a rebuilding situation I would rather keep someone with a little upside for a backup.
Chances one of them is released?
Chances both are sent packing?
This one kind of hurts, yet it might be the most likely.
Kyle Vanden Bosch isn't going any place, and there are a handful of young DEs who could push DeVries out of a spot.
I love Jared, but if the Lions want to go with KVB, Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter, and Turk McBride at DE, plus they don't want to lose Willie Young, it might be time for him to enjoy the good life of Iowa again.
Chances he retires?
A forgotten man, but no team will take a lot of chances with the depth at center.
Gandy played okay last year when he filled in after Stephen Peterman went down, but he will be challenged by Dan Gerberry for that backup center spot. It sure would make a lot of Lion fans happy if Gerberry started to look like a starting center.
Not likely Gerberry beats out Dominic Raiola this year, but he could give the Lions some options next offseason. That's a different article for a different time though.
Even if Gandy loses that battle, he still could make the team as a backup guard, but the Lions have some good competition going there with Manny Ramirez, Roy Schuening, and Trevor Canfield.
This is kind of a long shot, but the chances he is released?
This one seems almost impossible.
With DeAndre Levy and Zack Follett penciled in as starters, it just doesn't seem likely they would cut the only true veteran backup for both spots.
Only way this happens is not only if Levy and Follett shine, but also if the Lions feel really comfortable with Jordon Dizon and a couple of the LBs they brought in, like Ashley Palmer and the latest addition Isaiah Ekejiuba.
The other possibility is they sign another veteran.
Chances he is gone?
King is facing the most competition with Bly added to Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade, Amari Spievey, Jack Williams, Jonathan Hefney, and maybe even Aaron Berry looking to fill the top four or five CB spots.
I doubt they would start King, but he might have the inside track for the nickel spot. The hope is three or four of those guys pass him on the depth chart.
What makes him vulnerable is he doesn't appear to be a big contributor on special teams.
Chances his reign is over?
Yes, he is in a battle for the starting RT position with Gosder Cherilus, but suppose Gosder beats him out and appears ready to reach his potential.
Now do the math.
What are the chances Jason Fox is cut?
Zero, zilch, not going to happen?
Actually, I suppose there could be an injury and he goes on IR, but short of that Fox is on this team.
While Jansen did "play" a little guard last year, nobody wants to see that again except in extreme emergencies, so you can't have him as a backup guard. That means he would be the ninth offensive lineman when it's common for teams to keep eight.
Not saying the Lions won't keep nine, but what if they like a couple of the backup guards? Jansen could be enjoying some peaceful autumn weekends in Michigan for a change.
Jon Jansen could be one of those veteran guys you cut but keep his phone number around in case of an injury.
Chances he is cut?
So there we have it.
Seven—okay, eight for those who were counting—players who can form our barometer on cut down day.
If they are all gone, it means the Lions hit on all kinds of cylinders from the draft to free agency to maybe just plain good luck. The roster would be full of good-looking young players, hungry to prove themselves.
If all of them are still on the team, then we know there is a ways to go yet. Players we hoped would step up didn't, and rookies didn't show enough to consider them ready.
Most likely it will be somewhere in between, but then that's not so bad. It wasn't that long ago these players would have been the core of the team, so if a few of them stick around as veteran depth, it's still okay.
As long as we don't have to count on them to fill a larger role.
For those players mentioned, I suggest you continue to work hard for this rapidly approaching training camp. Maybe Schwartz will be watching your backup more than you, but don't get discouraged.
Other teams will be watching.
They might even be hoping to add a couple of these players to fill a plan A or B for themselves.