4 potential veteran cut candidates for the Lions this spring

Jesse James, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Jesse James, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /
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Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Detroit Lions continue to traverse through one of their most eventful offseasons in recent memory, it’s becoming obvious that the team that takes the field next September will look very different than 2020’s version. That could include the conspicuous absence of some high-usage veterans that may not fit their new vision.

The Lions’ new coaching staff, led by head coach Dan Campbell, and their reworked front office, including new general manager Brad Holmes, already made a franchise-altering move by agreeing to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. Now, they’ll have to make some important decisions on whether or not to retain several other players on both sides of the ball under the team’s new direction.

For this list, we will examine the potential outlooks for four Lions who are currently under contract through at least 2021. We will consider their cases for staying or going as well as the financial ramifications should the Lions cut them loose, starting with a player once thought to be a key member of their future…

Kerryon Johnson

Position: Running Back

Age: 23

2020 statistics: 16 games played, 52 carries, 3.5 yards/attempt, 368 total yards, 3 total touchdowns

2021 base salary: $1.36 million

Signed through: 2021

Depending on whom you ask or whom you trust around football, it can be difficult to find a consensus on the true value of individual running backs in today’s NFL. In Johnson’s case, many considered him to be a future star and a potential solution to the Lions’ decades-old running game problems after an impressive rookie season in 2018. Two years later, things simply haven’t worked out that way.

After missing 14 games with injuries over his first two years, Johnson’s role was greatly reduced in 2020. He was relegated to primarily being a pass-protector (a role in which he excels) and an occasional ball-carrier.

Stuck behind rookie D’Andre Swift and veteran Adrian Peterson, Johnson carried the ball just 52 times for 181 yards with three total touchdowns last year. These were career-low numbers despite playing in all 16 games for the first time.

He’s hardly the type to voice his displeasure at a lack of offensive touches and he represents a potential savings of only $664,377 if the Lions part ways with him, so he could easily be back in 2021. Even so, with an entirely new coaching staff and front office, a promising back ahead of him in Swift, and some intriguing running back options in free agency and the draft, Johnson’s future with the Lions is uncertain.