Finally, we can end this chapter: the 2011 NFL non-offseason.
If you believe what you read, you know that the 2011-2012 NFL season is upon us.
In a matter of days, team facilities will come available to players, draft picks will meet with coaches and the free-agency market will open like a New Jersey Walmart on Black Friday (hopefully without the fatal trampling injuries, though there might be a lot of traffic to Nnamdi Asomugha's house).
The Detroit Lions will be as anxious as any to jump into free agency, but there's an important point being overlooked here.
Free agency and training camp are going to be as much about losing players as they are about signing them.
Some of the players in question will be going from RFAs to UFAs under the new agreement. Some have fallen out of favor with the Lions. Some will be cut after a poor training camp.
Whatever the reason, these eight players have good reason to be concerned about their futures with the Lions.
Derrick Williams has been so ineffective in Detroit, he was on the bubble in 2010 after being a 2009 third-round pick.
Originally drafted as a KR/WR combo, Williams never panned out as either.
Stefan Logan has stepped in and become a phenom at returner, and the Lions' second-round selection of Titus Young in the 2011 draft should show exactly how much faith they have that Williams will develop into a decent receiver.
Williams has a shot to stick around in 2011, but the roster slots are fewer, and the competition is greater.
The Lions will take at least four wide receivers into the regular season, and only three of those spots (Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Young) are spoken for. Williams is arguably the favorite to be the fourth, but the Lions have a veteran and a couple of developing practice-squad players that could easily edge him for that spot.
The practice-squad players (Tim Toone and Mike Moore) can't very well be considered "on the bubble," since they weren't technically on the roster last year.
The veteran, though...
Derrick Williams and Bryant Johnson had a lot in common for the Detroit Lions in 2010.
And I'm not talking about the fact that they both went to Penn State. I'm talking about how they both may as well not have existed last season.
Though they both had some time as the Lions' "third" receiver, they both played like fifth receivers. Johnson had fewer than 20 catches, Williams fewer than 10.
But while Williams has a chance to stay around, Johnson has almost none. He's making $3 million a year, and at age 30, there's no reason to think he has remaining upside.
For a team that isn't likely to go to the fourth receiver very often with two receiving tight ends and two capable pass-catching running backs on the roster, that fourth spot could very well turn into a good place to groom a future developmental player.
I like Mike Moore, but that's a story for another day.
The point here is Johnson is 30 years old, unproductive, and in the final year of his contract. In no way does he figure to be part of the Lions' future plans, and he doesn't appear capable of helping them now.
So what, then, is he doing here?
We're all still waiting to see if Jordon Dizon's grit and toughness make him part of the Lions' plans moving forward, but it doesn't look good.
Last preseason, Dizon was gearing up for a make-or-break season. What broke what his knee.
Dizon blew out his ACL, PCL and MCL on that injury. All three of them. I'm no doctor, but I don't think there are any more cruciate ligaments you can tear.
There have been precious few updates on Dizon's condition, but generally speaking, even the most severe sports injuries don't take more than a full year to recover from and rehab, unless they're career-ending. He should be ready to go.
If there's one good thing Dizon has going for him, it's that the Lions are thin at linebacker.
If there's a bad thing, it's that the Lions may not care.
John Wendling isn't much of a safety, but he's an undeniable ace when it comes to special teams.
A Pro Bowl alternate for special teams coverage in 2010, Wendling is set to become a free agent as soon as free agency starts.
The Lions would love to have him back, as his presence alone was huge in vastly improving the Lions special teams in 2010. But contract extension talks with his agent reportedly went nowhere, and now he's ready for the open market.
It could be that Wendling was asking for too much, and the Lions are hoping he re-opens talks with them if he fails to get what he wants in free agency.
Of course, it's equally likely he does get what he wants, or that he just wants to go somewhere else.
Of course, even if Wendling leaves in 2011, he opens the door for another player waiting on the bubble.
The Lions signed Randy Phillips as an undrafted free agent in 2010, just to see what would happen.
In training camp and preseason, he became something of a legend. He was all over the field, making big plays in very visible ways. He seemed like the star of the entire camp. He made the 53-man roster, and played the first three games of the season with the team.
Then, somehow, he ended up on the practice squad. He came back from it for the final game of the season, but the Lions clearly thought he needed more seasoning.
Well, the man has a year of NFL experience under his belt now, and with C.C. Brown and (maybe) John Wendling out of the way, he should make the roster at safety behind Louis Delmas, Amari Spievey and Erik Coleman.
The bigger question is will he stay on the roster? How much has he progressed? We'll find out soon enough. If he grows like he should, he may be engaged in a 2012 battle with Amari Spievey for the right to start alongside Louis Delmas.
In 2009, it seemed like Aaron Brown made something happen every time he touched the ball. He appeared to be an ideal scat back.
Then in 2010, the Lions draft Jahvid Best, who ran in the same style as Brown, but was superior in every possible way.
The addition of Mikel Leshoure (and likely retention of Maurice Morris) means there are precious few roster spots to be had by players who don't contribute.
Brown, at this point, fits that bill. There doesn't appear to be any room left on the team for him.
If he has one saving grace, it's that there is no heir apparent to his roster spot. With Kevin Smith pretty much out of the Lions' plans, there isn't anyone blatantly obvious to fill a fourth running back slot on the team.
That said, there are plenty of tough-running UDFAs ready to have a shot at the spot. And unlike Brown, they might actually consider taking a look at the playbook once in a while.
Under 2010 rules, Drew Stanton would have been a restricted free agent.
But it turns out we're going with 2011 rules, which will place Stanton in the unrestricted free-agent pool.
Now, there is mutual interest in bringing Stanton back to Detroit for now. And Stanton certainly doesn't show any signs of dominating, so he's not likely to get an offer he can't refuse from another team.
Still, Stanton seems more interested in hanging around with the Lions than in legitimately advancing his career. And I guess there's a comfort to be had in that. After all, Stanton has played his home games in the state of Michigan since high school.
Whatever the reasons, the Lions will welcome Stanton back, where he may well be the most talented No. 3 quarterback in the NFL.
That is, unless somebody manages to talk him into taking more money and enhanced roster status before he re-signs.
By now, you all know the dilemma Zack Follett faces.
He's on the bubble, but if that bubble bursts, he'll be the one holding the needle. While the Lions certainly want their wild-eyed enforcer back out on the field (be it on special teams or defense), he has to decide whether or not it's worth it.
If he takes another shot like the one that put him in the state pictured here, he may never walk again. And even if he doesn't take another shot like that, is that knowledge going to affect his play?
Follett made a name for himself in Detroit by playing with reckless abandon. That's exactly the kind of thing that has put his spine in this condition.
It's sad to think about, but Follett shouldn't play the way he did before, for his own good. But he simply isn't talented enough to get by without that high-octane style he plays with.
See where I'm going with this?
There's a good chance Follett comes back and plays scared. He's even concerned about taking hits in practice. I must point out, this is perfectly understandable. We're talking about the possibility of paralysis.
Even if you were making $1 million a year at your job, would you keep it if you found out there was suddenly a highly elevated chance that you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair because of work?
Don't answer right away. It's not a simple question to deal with.
But Follett has to deal with that question right now, and every day of his life until he retires.
The only question is when that will be.