Detroit Lions: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

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Change came abruptly for the Detroit Lions on Tuesday afternoon. Two of the veteran stalwarts became ex-Lions when Rashean Mathis retired and Joique Bell was cut a few hours later.

Neither of these moves comes unexpected. Mathis ended his third season in Detroit on injured reserve and had showed serious signs of decline at age 35, well beyond the age where cornerbacks normally hang up the cleats. Bell was due $2.5M as a part-time, 30-year-old running back who didn’t play special teams.

Even so, this served as a reminder these Lions are not the Same Old Lions we’ve come to know and love…to hate. Those Lions would have held onto Bell out of loyalty. He’s a fan favorite, a local product done very well for himself by overcoming odds to become the vocal leader of the offense. William Clay Ford Sr. would have found it very tough to give up on Bell.

Martha Ford, his widow and the vivaciously active new owner in Detroit, doesn’t have such issues. She has clearly empowered new General Manager Bob Quinn to place team loyalty and legacy aside as well. The new-look Lions aren’t worried about what a player has done for them in the past. All eyes are on what helps the team going forward.

I’m reminded of the old Eddie Murphy bit from the classic Raw concert film.

That question is no longer relevant for Lions players. Bob Quinn isn’t asking it, and he surely won’t listen to arguments that cite good play from 2014 as justification for a future with the team.

This is called progress, ladies and gentlemen. The Lions carried a lot of veteran weight which wasn’t doing much for them lately. And it certainly wasn’t going to do much positive going forward either.

Bell had to go, and he understands the business behind the decision. Mathis knew he was done, and being the eminent class act he’s always been, showed himself out the door with dignity. Hopefully Mathis is rewarded with a position on the team still working with the young defensive backs he’s helped mold and improve over the last three years.

For several other veterans, guys who are banking on what they’ve done lately instead of what they can do for the future of the team, Tuesday’s moves serve as ominous warnings.

It doesn’t matter how many tackles you’ve racked up, Stephen Tulloch. You can’t cover anyone, can’t range nearly as far or quickly to the sidelines, and you’re certainly not worth $5.5M in base salary any more as a two-down inside linebacker.

Sorry, Brandon Pettigrew, but the second ACL tear (in December) pretty much eliminates any value you have as an inconsistent blocking tight end. You’re worth more as $2M in dead cap room than the $8M salary for making the team the next two years.

C.J. Wilson, we hardly knew ye. Signed in November out of injury desperation at defensive tackle, your meager services (8 tackles, one clean-up sack in eight games) are no longer relevant. Better polish the résumé. You’re not getting $2.3M, including a $125K roster bonus, to be the 29-year-old, game-day inactive defensive tackle when the rest of the team is relatively healthy.

This is what good teams do. Paying premiums for past peak performance is death in today’s NFL. Look at the cap-strapped Saints and their legacy contracts with guys like Jahri Evans and Junior Galette. Both are ex-Saints (Evans was cut Monday) who will count for over 10 percent of New Orleans’ 2016 salary cap thanks to being paid for what they’d done, not what they could do in the future.

It’s why Lions fans probably shouldn’t be overwhelmingly concerned that Calvin Johnson is poised to retire. Obviously the team would be better with Calvin than without, but what he’s done lately isn’t as important to the Quinn regime as what he offers going forward.

It’s why Lions fans should be overjoyed former GM Martin Mayhew fell asleep at the wheel with Ndamukong Suh. Mayhew’s failure there might wind up being his greatest blessing to the new Lions.

It’s why guys like Darryl Tapp, Lance Moore and Manny Ramirez are almost certainly not coming back. Their best days are behind them. As a company I once worked for always said in the generic emails announcing new hires and departures, “We wish them well on their future endeavors”.

The Lions aren’t paying in the future for past contributions any more. That’s what Martha Ford is doing for the fans lately.