As the Chicago Bears stare nervously at their linebacker depth during Brian Urlacher's recovery from knee surgery, it's worth pointing out the myriad of ways teams can begin succession planning for key players. Sometimes it happens years in advance of the actual transition.
As we noted during the offseason, the Detroit Lions' offensive line is old enough that soon several positions will need to be turned over. Barring a surprise, the Lions will start the same five linemen this season as they did in 2010 and 2011. But the transition process has already begun.
We all know the Lions made Iowa's Riley Reiff their first-round draft pick in April. Reiff can play both tackle positions and has gotten a bit of work at guard in training camp, and it's fair to expect him to be a long-term starter beginning in 2013, if not before.
In addition, this week the Lions made the kind of low-level move that has helped them beef the roster throughout the tenure of general manager Martin Mayhew. They claimed offensive lineman Bill Nagy off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys, who were trying to place him on injured reserve after he had left ankle surgery. He started four games as a rookie in 2011 and was competing for the starting center job this season. He can also play guard.
Nagy has now had two surgeries on his left ankle, and he might not play for the Lions this season. But he is 24 and, if he can stay healthy, could be an option for the Lions as center Dominic Raiola (33) and right guard Stephen Peterman (30) approach the 2013 expiration of their contracts. The Cowboys were willing to risk losing him by trying to place him on injured reserve this week, requiring a trip through waivers, and that speaks to their assessment of him over the past 15 months.
But you have to start somewhere, and at this point, claiming Nagy costs nothing more than one spot on a 90-player roster. He could add to the Lions' options or he could leave them where they were before this week. Regardless, if you don't at least start the process until the established player is injured or can't play any longer, your options are limited.