By Ash Thompson
In a move that surprises nobody who watches Detroit Lions games, Stephen Tulloch is being released. While it is not a shocking transaction to see across the ticker on the NFL network, I do not think you would find too many people that will have a big smile on their face about it. At the beginning of the 2014 regular season Tulloch and Levy were looking like the best pair of three down linebackers in the league. 32 games later Tulloch is out, and the saddest part is that he did this to himself.
We will get to the obvious meaning in a moment, but when Tulloch was brought in to the Lions organization, it was to fill the dual role of field general for the defense, and veteran leader in the locker room. Unquestionably he filled both roles very well, coming in on a one year “Show Me” deal and reuniting with Jim Schwartz, a match that was made in football heaven. Tulloch was the best linebacker on the field in 2011, leading the linebacker group in tackles, sacks, and interceptions and earned the contract that he got, both for his play and the effect that his presence had on the linebacker group as a whole – particularly third year linebacker Deandre Levy. Tulloch continued his excellent play through the 2013 season and going into the 2014 regular season, the Lions’ linebacker group was looking very good. Levy was coming off a six interception campaign, Tulloch had led the team in tackles again, and third year player Tahir Whitehead had been really impressive in the preseason after a couple years of mentorship from the two veteran starters.
In week three however, Tulloch got himself on Sportscenter for all the wrong reasons, tearing his ACL during a sack celebration, and ending his season. That set the stage for the main reason this move was made in my opinion. Whitehead filled in, and for the most part was absolutely fine as the middle linebacker of a spectacular defense. Tulloch the mentor had helped along a player that showed that the defense could get by without him. He came back in 2014, but wasn’t the same player we had become used to, now relegated to a two down role, and a cap hit that is just too high.
In Tahir Whitehead’s interview at the conclusion of the 2015 season, he said something to the effect that he saw himself as a middle linebacker, and that it was tough for him to consider returning to a team that didn’t seem likely to put him in the role he saw as his best fit. I would be surprised if the next shoe dropping was not a signing of Whitehead to fill this spot, as his performance in 2013 was better than that of Tulloch in 2014, and the price tag is likely to be much lower.
The next move?
There are also reports that James Ihedigbo will not be brought back, which is also not exactly a world shattering surprise, with Isa Abdul-Quddus having passed him on the depth chart during the 2014 season. With Ihedigbo being an impending unrestricted free agent, there would not be much reason for the team to put that information in the press. Both of these moves are being announced well before they needed to be, neither of them have any effect before the start of the new league year. I suspect that part of the motivation for telling the world is to give these other impending free agents a higher comfort level in terms of their future role for the team. Both players have proven their worth, and will likely find teams willing to pay them more than a backup salary if they reach the open market. With that said, I would be surprised if the two combined in price to match the cap relief of $6 million created by the Tulloch move. If that’s not the plan, these two positions are very high priorities for the lions this off-season. We will have future articles on potential targets in both free agency and the draft in the next few weeks.
If I were in a position to speculate consequence free on the internet about the next target of the cull (oh look, I am, tee hee!), I doubt Brandon Pettigrew is on the team for 24 hours after he passes a medical examination – he has been paid over $400,000 per catch since signing his extension and also grants the team significant cap relief. Blocking-only tight ends can be had in the seventh round, and make league minimum salaries, not $3.65 million.
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