The Detroit Lions have made their final cuts and set their roster, and it’s safe to say that there is excitement in the air around Ford Field as the countdown to the visit of Arizona begins.
Bob Quinn is one savvy general manager. About two weeks ago his salary cap was about $7.5 million. Today he has doubled that to just over $15.6 million and he accomplished much of that while signing Matthew Stafford to the highest contract in NFL history. With a little creative accounting, Quinn was able to free up about $5 million in cap space, while at the same time paying Stafford his base salary and signing bonus of $51 million over the next six months.
Now, that actually sounds better than it is. Offensive tackle Taylor Decker, punter Sam Martin, and defensive ends Khyri Thornton and Armonty Bryant are all due back sometime around midseason. When they do return so do their salaries which total $7.3 million. That cost will be offset by releasing somebody. Who and how much we don’t know. Still, as much as Bob Quinn would love to run right out and sign a free agent DE he needs to be more cautious until midseason. This is the same as having money in the bank but the mortgage is coming due.
Prior to the final cuts, Quinn made two significant trades. Offensive guard Laken Tomlinson went to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2019 fifth round pick and special teams standout Johnson Bademosi to the New England Patriots for a 2019 sixth round pick. These moves opened up two roster spots and even more cap space.
Tomlinson was already on the bubble because he’d lost his starting job to Graham Glasgow last year. Bademosi was a victim of attrition because the Lions find themselves so deep at cornerback he was the one player who offered the most savings and the least impact on defense.
Previous to Jim Caldwell, the Lions had literally ignored the final game of the preseason. Not anymore. Last year’s surprise was DE Kerry Hyder and this year it’s running back Tion Green, who logged 150 yards in all purpose yards and one impressive touchdown, which prompted the Lions to keep five running backs meaning someone else had to be cut, like QB Brad Kaaya, who didn’t clear waivers.
Another surprise was only keeping three tight ends. Eric Ebron has had his detractors, myself included, but he’s injury prone. He sat out most of the preseason last year and virtually all of it this year. He has yet to play a full 16 game schedule which begs the question why only three tight ends? The only insurance is second year TE Cole Wick who’s now on the practice squad.
In keeping with receivers, Quinn and company kept five wide receivers where they only kept four last year. The fifth spot was a toss up between Jace Billingsley, who cleared waivers and is now on the practice squad again, and veteran Jared Abbrederis. This move may explain why the Lions only kept three TEs.
Every team has a ten player practice squad and this year Quinn and staff gambled on releasing their third string QB, Brad Kaaya, in hopes of signing him to the practice squad. Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers signed Kaaya to their active roster, which leaves Detroit with just two quarterbacks.
The Lions made another risky move when they released WR Jace Billingsley. He did clear waivers and is on the practice squad, but that leaves him just as vulnerable as Kaaya was. But the loss of Kaaya means Quinn will have to find another QB to run their scout team and be the insurance against Stafford and backup Jake Rudock being injured.
It is not unheard of for a team to lose their starter and backup QBs in the same game. Kaaya, the Lions sixth round pick, was projected as a first round pick before he had a bad year his senior season. With QB gurus Jim Caldwell and Jim Bob Cooter to coach him up, there was serious promise for the Lions to have two excellent backups by the NFL Draft next year. If Bob Quinn had a Plan B now is the time. Expect the Lions to sign a new QB in the next few days.
Thin on the edges
Season ending injuries have plagued the Lions since Quinn’s arrival. This year Detroit has already lost DEs Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland for the season. Copeland was given an injury settlement and his outright release where Hyder was put on injured reserve with a torn ACL so he’s out for the season.
Then factor in Khyri Thornton who’s suspended and star DE Ziggy Ansah who’s been recovering from a non-disclosed injury and Detroit is woefully thin at DE. Ziggy is back but he hasn’t practiced yet. Detroit didn’t make a move to address their DE needs, and to date, Bob Quinn still hasn’t. With two undrafted free agents, DEs Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga, making the final roster expect Quinn to sign a veteran DE. None so far thus the low grade.
I’ll give the Lions a ‘C’ right now, but that could improve to a ‘B’ should Quinn land a veteran DE in the near future. The Lions will surely sign another QB to the practice squad. In the meantime, Rudock will assume his old duties of running the scout team. The Lions need to start the season no worse than 3-3 because after the bye they’ll have their full complement of players back and the easy part of the schedule ahead of them. This week the Arizona Cardinals come to Motown.
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