NFL Nation: Amari Spievey
The dominoes: The Lions apparently chose veteran Michael Spurlock as their kick returner, necessitating the release of rookie Steven Miller, who could return on the practice squad. Spurlock is also a receiver, and for the now he is one of six on the roster, presumably because of Ryan Broyles' sore knees. The release of veteran Matt Willis means Kris Durham is the sixth receiver. You wonder if the Lions would change directions soon in that regard. The Lions sifted through their big group of veteran defensive backups by tapping Rashean Mathis as a swing cornerback/safety and Rocky McIntosh as a backup linebacker while releasing the rest. John Wendling and Don Carey are the backup safeties for now.
What's next: According to multiple reports, the Lions will place running back Montell Owens on short-term injured reserve. That can't happen until next week, so for now he is part of the 53-man roster. He must miss at least six weeks of the regular season. You would think the Lions will bring back a number of the players they cut Saturday for their practice squad, and it's worth remembering that they are No. 5 in priority for NFL waiver claims. Sunday could be a busy day.
List of players cut: WR: Corey Fuller, Matt Willis. RB: Steven Miller, Shaun Chapas. OL: Rodney Austin, Kevin Haslam, Darren Keyton, Jake Scott. DL: Andre Fluellen, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen. LB: Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan (waived/injured) Chris White. CB: Ron Bartell, Chris Greenwood. S: Amari Spievey, Tyrell Johnson, Martavius Neloms (waived/injured) P: Blake Clingan.
In four seasons with the Texans, Quin has missed one game -- in his 2009 rookie season. He tied a career high with 14 pass breakups last season and also had two interceptions.
Again the free agent market is always fluid, but I'm going to keep an eye on Quin's potential as another Lions target.
- Reggie Bush is headed to Detroit for a visit, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. I think there's a pretty good chance Bush will sign with the Lions to fill the role once envisioned for Jahvid Best. More on that if and when it happens. As expected, running back
- Schefter also reports the Lions have Seahawks defensive lineman Jason Jones on the way in for a visit. Jones went to high school in Lathrup Village, Mich., played at Eastern Michigan. He was a backup defensive tackle last season for the Seahawks, and his season ended in December because of a lingering knee injury. Earlier I wrote he could project as a starter at defensive end, either for the released Kyle Vanden Bosch or for Cliff Avril if he signs elsewhere in free agency, but that doesn't seem likely.
- Earlier, the Lions gave defensive end Willie Young a second-round restricted free agent tender. That suggests they have significant plans for him in 2013, possibly as a starter.
- According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, among others, the Lions have re-signed safety Amari Spievey to a one-year deal. Spievey was a restricted free agent but his concussion history figured to limit any interest on the open market.
More to come, I'm sure.
Cap Status: The Bears have a modest amount of cap space after using $8.45 million for the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton. Over the weekend, they were projected to have between $6 million and $10 million available to them.
Strategy: Conventional wisdom suggests the Bears will seek improvement at offensive line and tight end this offseason, and free agency offers the first avenue. At the moment, the Bears' best offensive lineman is right guard Lance Louis, who is still recovering from ACL surgery and is a pending free agent himself. You wonder if the Bears have enough firepower to sign left tackle Jake Long, but New York Jets guard Brandon Moore could be a reasonably priced option. At tight end, everyone loves the Tennessee Titans' Jared Cook, but he will be costly. Incumbent Kellen Davis is signed for 2013 but had a disappointing season last year as a pass-catcher.
Cap Status: The Lions won't have much cap space to work with unless they can renegotiate/extend one of the two huge contracts on their books: quarterback Matthew Stafford ($20.8 million cap figure) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($18.2 million). According to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions are projected to have $6 million in space at the moment.
Strategy: There are plenty of needs to squeeze into that small amount of cap space. The Lions would love to find a speedy tailback to fill the role once envisioned for Jahvid Best, a profile that seems to fit veteran Reggie Bush. But with only two of their 23 projected free agents now under contract, the Lions could have needs for two safeties, two defensive ends, two cornerbacks and one outside linebacker. That's because defensive ends Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are all pending free agents. The same goes for cornerbacks Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey and safeties Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey. A weekend flooding of the cornerback/safety markets could drive down prices.
Cap Status: The Packers are projected to have about $20 million in space, a number that could increase depending on whether they renegotiate the contract of tight end Jermichael Finley.
Strategy: Thompson signaled at least some participation in free agency by hosting a visit for defensive lineman Chris Canty last week; Canty had been released by the New York Giants. The Packers know they need to improve their defensive line, whether it is with veterans, drafted players or a combination of both. There is also plenty of fan support for the Packers to pursue running back Steven Jackson, who has said he would take a role as a "counterpuncher" on a passing offense if necessary. But to this point, there has been no indication the Packers are interested. Much of their cap space is likely to be devoted, one day, to contract extensions for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Cap Status: They will have a moderate amount of cap space, about $15 million, if nothing changes between now and Tuesday.
Strategy: There is no doubt the Vikings need to improve their receiving corps, but to this point there has been no indication they are interested in the pre-eminent receiver on the market: Mike Wallace. Multiple reports suggest Wallace is most likely to end up with the Miami Dolphins. Monday's trade of Percy Harvin means the Vikings could get into the Wallace mix or perhaps Greg Jennings or Brandon Gibson. Meanwhile, it's quite possible the Vikings could seek a safety on the free-agent market, and they'll have to decide what to do at strongside linebacker and middle linebacker. The incumbent starters, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, are both free agents.
Spievey's situation is relatively straightforward. He has started only two games since suffering a concussion in the 2011 wild-card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, and his 2012 season ended early because of another concussion. Mayhew indicated the Lions might pass on offering Spievey a restricted free agent tender -- known as a "non-tender" -- as a result.
"I guess we'll have to wait and see on that," Mayhew said. Asked to explain the source of his uncertainty, Mayhew said: "It's just the total package of everything he's dealt with. He obviously was a good player for us when he was healthy, but we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach on that."
Delmas' situation is less clear -- but much more concerning if you're a Lions fan. Based purely on talent and impact, Delmas would almost assuredly be one of the team's top offseason priorities. But a knee injury that hampered him throughout last season and cost him eight games appears unresolved at the moment.
"Our doctors are still evaluating his situation," Mayhew said, "and we're still making those decisions as we speak."
I realize that general managers don't like to signal their offseason plans, but I found Mayhew's response on Delmas to be far less definitive than I would have guessed. Does it mean Delmas has a chronic injury that can't easily be corrected by surgery? At the end of last season, at least, it appeared Delmas was gutting out a miserable situation via limited practice time and game-day decisions.
That approach can work for getting through a given season, but it doesn't lend itself to much of a long-term financial commitment. If they do bring Delmas back, you wonder if it will be a short-term deal that protects the team in case the knee does not improve.
"I think anytime we look at free agents, the one thing we really focus on is the injury history," Mayhew said. "[There is also] the background, character, football character, playing ability, obviously, but the injury question always comes into play. It's something you always need to be aware of. You always want to know what you're buying and I think that's going to be a factor moving forward for a lot of free agents."
So was Mayhew in gamesmanship mode or do the Lions have serious concerns about Delmas' future? If there are still medical questions about his knee, more than six weeks after the season, then there is real reason to be concerned. Stay tuned.
Much of the Lions' defensive nucleus is made up of pending free agents, and you wonder how many Mayhew wants to bring back after reading some of Mayhew's quotes. He admitted it's "quite possible" he misjudged the defense's talent level entering the season, and said it needs more playmakers.
"We need guys that can impact the game," he added. "We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."
What's amazing is that even the most amateur observers have been questioning the Lions' secondary for years. It's true that safety Louis Delmas is a difference-maker when healthy, but for the most part it appears Mayhew went into the season counting on players to do things they had never or rarely done before.
Who did Mayhew expect to be his interceptors? Cornerback Chris Houston had five in 2011, but has never had more than two in any of his other five NFL seasons. Cornerback Jacob Lacey had five interceptions in three previous seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Safety Amari Spievey had five in two previous seasons. Cornerback Bill Bentley was a rookie, and thus his production was impossible to project.
Mayhew said the only defensive player who improved from 2011 was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a warning shot for everyone who is eligible for free agency and a few others as well. (I assume he skipped over defensive tackle Nick Fairley, because he was injured for most of last season.)
The free agent list includes defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson. Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are on it, as are Houston, Delmas, Lacey and Spievey. Given Mayhew's comments, you would think that many of them will be looking for work elsewhere this spring.
Of course, Mayhew's search for "playmakers" is no different than what every other team is looking for. He won't find playmakers at every position, but in 2012, the Lions were pretty thin across the board. Most fans directed their ire at the Lions' inconsistent offense, but it rarely got help from the defense. The Lions recovered the NFL's sixth-fewest fumbles (six), had only 11 interceptions (No. 23) and ranked No. 22 in sacks per opposing dropback (5.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Again, I appreciate Mayhew's honesty. There is not much to criticize here that he did not already acknowledge. The Lions stood pat last offseason and paid for it. That doesn't appear to be a possibility in 2013.
The Packers won't have cornerback Sam Shields (shin), who returned to practice last week but isn't ready to play. Rookie Casey Hayward will start in Shields' place, and rookie Dezman Moses will start at outside linebacker for Clay Matthews (hamstring).
The Lions, meanwhile, will again have backup safeties Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva starting for the injured Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion, placed on injured reserve Saturday). Defensive end Ronnell Lewis is inactive, allowing former Packers cornerback and new Lions addition Pat Lee to be active for this game. Cornerback Drayton Florence is also active for the Lions.
- The Detroit Lions have activated cornerback Drayton Florence from short-term injured reserve and created a roster spot by placing safety Amari Spievey (concussion) on injured reserve. Florence will play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, it's fair to question Spievey's future. He's not ready to resume playing a month after suffering a concussion. Last season, a concussion he suffered in the playoffs did not clear until spring practice.
- The Chicago Bears have ruled out three players from Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. We already knew about quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Shea McClellin, both of whom have concussions. The Bears also won't have defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (toe). Everyone else will be available, including receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand).
- Former Bears coach and current ESPN analyst Mike Ditka, who suffered a minor stroke Friday, is hoping to be released from the hospital in time to watch Sunday's games.
Chicago Bears: Because they play Monday, the Bears won't provide game designations until Saturday. But we already know that quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) is out of Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers. Defensive end Shea McClellin (concussion) also is out. It appears, meanwhile, that receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) is ready to return. Jeffery had full participation in Friday's practice.
Detroit Lions: The Lions ruled out defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and safety Amari Spievey (concussion) for Sunday's game against Green Bay Packers. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) is listed as doubtful and not expected to play. Cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) are questionable, but both are expected to play.
Green Bay Packers: Tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) was ruled out, along with three players we already knew about: Receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen), defensive back Charles Woodson (collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring). Cornerback Sam Shields (shin) is questionable, but the chances of him playing don't appear great. Linebacker Terrell Manning (shoulder) is questionable, but all other players should be available.
Chicago Bears: The Bears didn't practice so there was no injury report. We've already noted that coach Lovie Smith said quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) is improving. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has passed his concussion tests this week and is on track to play against the Bears on Monday night. Meanwhile, place-kicker Robbie Gould issued an apology for the comments he made Monday night about the playing surface at Soldier Field. Gould said he spoke "prior to having a full understanding" of the issues involved. It should be noted, however, that the Chicago Tribune reported Soldier Field will be re-sodded this week.
Detroit Lions: Missing practice Wednesday were safeties Louis Delmas (knee), Erik Coleman (eye) and Amari Spievey (concussion); along with defensive end Cliff Avril (back/concussion), cornerback Chris Houston (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and receiver Calvin Johnson (knee). Meanwhile, the Elias Sports Bureau awarded defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a sack on a play when he touched Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder after he tripped over an offensive lineman's foot. That adds to what coach Jim Schwartz said was one of Suh's best-ever games.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers ruled out linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) from Sunday's game against the Lions. The same goes for receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen) and cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone). Defensive end Mike Neal (ankle) also did not practice. Fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) was limited.
Chicago Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) is the only player on the Bears' 53-man roster who won't be available for Sunday's game at the Tennessee Titans.
Detroit Lions: Receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) missed practice for the third consecutive day and is listed as probable, but indications are that he will be available for Sunday's game at the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Lions ruled out safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion). Linebacker DeAndre Levy (hamstring) participated in a portion of practice and is questionable.
Green Bay Packers: Receiver Jordy Nelson tested his hamstring Friday morning but did not practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers declared six players out: Receiver Greg Jennings (groin), fullback John Kuhn (hamstring), linebacker Nick Perry (knee) cornerback Sam Shields (shin), cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (concussion). Safety Jerron McMillian had a sore back Friday, did not practice and is listed as questionable.
Minnesota Vikings: Tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) sat out practice but will play Sunday at the Seattle Seahawks. Receiver Percy Harvin (family issue) returned to practice. Tight end John Carlson (concussion) won't play. Safety Mistral Raymond (ankle) is listed as questionable, but should be available for limited work.
A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field:
What it means: The Lions improved to 3-4, and all three victories this season have required a fourth-quarter comeback. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, but as we've said many times, you're a fool to count out this team if its late-game deficit is at all manageable.
Comeback king: Quarterback Matthew Stafford played his best game of the season, completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards. He threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner to receiver Titus Young with 20 seconds remaining, and also ran for a touchdown. His composure on the Lions' final drive -- a 16-play, 80-yard monster over five minutes, seven seconds -- was incredible. And here is a nearly unbelievable statistic: Stafford has won 16 career starts, and eight of them have required a fourth-quarter comeback. (He put together a total of nine game-winning drives.)
YoungWatch: We finally saw Young live up to the hype surrounding him after training camp. In the Lions' first game without veteran Nate Burleson, he stepped up for nine catches, 100 yards and two scores -- the game winner and also a 46-yarder down the seam in the second quarter. I wasn't a huge fan of his extended celebrations after the scores, but I understand it's been a frustrating year for him. Young's performance helped mitigate a quiet game from Calvin Johnson, who caught three passes and dropped a sure touchdown four plays before Young's game winner.
Injury report: Safety Louis Delmas did not return after injuring his left knee -- the same knee that required surgery in August -- in the third quarter. The Lions finished the game with Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva (replacing Amari Spievey) at safety. The Seahawks did a nice job targeting some other injury replacements. Receiver Sidney Rice beat cornerback Alphonso Smith for a touchdown; Smith was playing because Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley were out. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Miller's 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter came against linebacker Ashlee Palmer, who started for the injured DeAndre Levy, to give the Seahawks a 24-21 lead.
What's next: The Lions will play at the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday.
Smith's arrival suggests the Lions aren't certain they will have rookie Bill Bentley (shoulder) or veteran Jacob Lacey (concussion) Monday against the Chicago Bears. If not, they'll enter the game with veteran Chris Houston, rookie Jonte Green and Smith as their top three cornerbacks. (Rookie Chris Greenwood, activated this week from the physically unable to perform list, hasn't yet been added to the 53-man roster.)
That doesn't necessarily mean that Green or Smith will be the Lions' nickel back. After losing Bentley and Lacey last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Lions tried a number of lineup combinations. Among them, safety Amari Spievey slid to the nickel spot -- Spievey was drafted as a cornerback in 2010 -- and Erik Coleman played at safety for 13 snaps.
The Lions released running back Keiland Williams to make room for Smith on the roster. Williams had only two carries this season, and the Lions are moving forward with a rotation of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell in their backfield.
The Lions will start safety Ricardo Silva one day after promoting him from the practice squad. He'll replace Amari Spievey, who apparently had earned his starting job back but is inactive Sunday because of a groin injury. The Lions' other question of Sunday morning, running back Mikel Leshoure, is active and will start.
The Vikings, meanwhile, made room on their game-day roster for receiver Jerome Simpson by deactivating receiver Stephen Burton, who had appeared in the Vikings' first three games. Jamarca Sanford will start for injured safety Mistral Raymond, as expected.
Most significant move: The Lions showed their commitment to fixing the secondary by keeping four new cornerbacks -- Kevin Barnes, Jacob Lacey and draft choices Bill Bentley and Jonte Green. They left themselves thin at safety, though. The Lions retained five safeties from last year -- Louis Delmas, Amari Spievey, Erik Coleman, John Wendling and Ricardo Silva -- but not adding a new safety is a little surprising considering the knee problems Delmas has dealt with. At corner, though, the Lions have a nice mixture of veterans and youth. Lacey is at least a solid third corner, Barnes came over from the Redskins in a trade, and Chris Houston is a solid starter. The Lions released Alphonso Smith, Justin Miller and Ross Weaver, who fell behind in the cornerback race.
Onward and upward: Defensive end Everette Brown and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen had decent camps and could be picked up by other teams. Brown was particularly solid as a pass-rusher during the preseason. Still, it was going to be hard for Brown to crack the top four at defensive end with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young ahead of him. Brown’s only hope was beating out fourth-round choice Ronnell Young, but the Lions wisely made a commitment to their draft board by keeping seven draft choices.
What next: The Lions need to start thinking about locking up some of their defensive starters. Avril, Corey Williams, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, Houston and Delmas are unrestricted free agents. Spievey is a restricted free agent. That won’t be easy. The Lions have less than $2.5 million of cap room, so they might be able to get only one deal done. They can’t do a long-term deal with Avril because they come to an agreement by July 15. Franchise players have to settle for the one-year deal after that date. The Lions may have to put the franchise tag on Delmas after the season and then get a long-term deal done with Avril in February.
Final San Diego 22 Buffalo 10 Final Dallas 34 St. Louis 31 Final Washington 34 Philadelphia 37 Final Houston 17 New York 30 Final Minnesota 9 New Orleans 20 Final Tennessee 7 Cincinnati 33 Final Baltimore 23 Cleveland 21 Final Green Bay 7 Detroit 19 Final Indianapolis 44 Jacksonville 17 Final Oakland 9 New England 16 Final San Francisco 14 Arizona 23 Final/OT Denver 20 Seattle 26 Final Kansas City 34 Miami 15 Final Pittsburgh 37 Carolina 19