The Detroit Lions were counting on safety Louis Delmas and wide receiver Nate Burleson to play critical roles in 2013. Delmas lived up to those expectations, playing 16 games for the first time in his career and seeing the field for 98 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps. Burleson fell short, after breaking his arm in an odd, pizza-related car accident prior to the season.
Both now are looking for new teams.
The Lions cut Delmas and Burleson on Thursday, moves that will free up $11 million-plus off of their 2014 salary cap -- previously, Detroit had been between $5-6 million over the projected line. The money saved may take the sting off losing two key veteran presences inside the team's locker room, no small hit given the Lions' issues with a lack of discipline during the now-terminated Jim Schwartz era.
Burleson had developed into an especially strong voice, on the team and in the public eye. He never quite delivered the way Detroit wanted on the field, however. The Lions signed him to a five-year deal before the 2010 season in hopes that he could play the complementary role to Calvin Johnson. Instead, Burleson maxed out at 757 yards receiving in the team's postseason run of 2011, then missed a total of 17 games over the 2012 and '13 campaigns.
Delmas' importance in the secondary was made evident by the two-year, $9.5 million contract he was handed last offseason despite sitting out eight games in 2012 and constantly struggling with injuries. The Lions were extra cautious with him prior to Week 1, allowing him to sit out the majority of training camp and the playoffs to keep him healthy. The plan worked.
The 26-year-old Delmas may find himself a wanted man on the free-agent market (and because he was released, he can sign anywhere at any time, as opposed to waiting for the official start of free agency next month). Outside of Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, there may not be another available safety with as complete a game the former Lion.
His absence almost certainly will force the Lions to focus heavily on their safety spots for the second straight offseason. They were able to convince ex-Texan Glover Quin to sign with them a year ago, and he now needs a running mate where Delmas stood.
With or without Burleson in the fold, the Lions also figured to upgrade at receiver. Their positioning at No. 10 overall in the NFL Draft could give them a shot at one of the top options there: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans or others. This year's free-agent class also appears to be rather receiver-heavy, from Denver's Eric Decker to San Francisco's Anquan Boldin and down through less heralded targets.
Who inherits the leadership roles vacated by Burleson and Delmas may be a trickier puzzle to solve. Huge contracts for Ndamukong Suh (whose 2014 cap hit currently sits above $22 million), Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made some losses inevitable. These might linger. FARRAR: NFC North free agency primer