ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The harsh reality of the NFL is that Nate Burleson’s season-ending broken leg could end his days as a Detroit Lion.
He hopes not, but he acknowledges that’s a distinct possibility.
The Lions could save about $10 million that’s owed to Burleson, 31, over the next two seasons by releasing him and going with younger players to help complement star receiver Calvin Johnson.
If recent draft picks such as Titus Young and Ryan Broyles prove over the final two months that they can fill the role at a lesser price, Burleson could have played his final game as a Lion.
“I told them (Young and Broyles), ‘Me being injured, this is a great time for you guys to solidify yourselves,'” Burleson said Wednesday, the first time he has done an interview since getting injured Oct. 22 at Chicago. “I’m just being realistic. I’ve been in their position before. Me being down gives them a really privileged opportunity to make a great name for themselves within this organization.
“I talk bluntly to them. I say with them balling out completely, it could leave me the odd-man out. That’s just the reality of the game.
“My job is to not focus on the future. It’s really just to focus on rehab. Once I heal up, I’m going to come back at a high level. If my spot is secure on this team then I’m going to continue to do what I do and lead and be the person I was before I got banged up.
“If not, then hopefully I’ve put the young guys in position where they can easily take my place.”
Eight years ago, Burleson benefitted in a similar way from an injury to Minnesota’s star receiver Randy Moss.
Burleson was 23 years old, in his second season in the league. Moss, in his seventh year, missed five games in the middle of the season because of a hamstring injury.
Burleson had a breakout season, finishing with 68 receptions for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns.
Burleson also had gone into that season competing with six-year veteran Marcus Robinson for the starting job opposite of Moss.
The youngster hasn’t forgotten how the veteran treated him despite their competition.
“I remember him (Robinson) telling me, ‘There’s enough food on the table for everybody to eat. I’m not going to knock you. I’m not going to pull you down. If you need help, I’ll always be here,'” Burleson said.
“I thought to myself if (Robinson) could do that then I’m never going to cheat the game and be a selfish leader. I’m always going to give these guys the tools they need, even if it puts me in a position that makes me uncomfortable.
“I’m going to give back to the game what it gave to me, and that’s help these guys do whatever they can to have longevity in their careers.”
Burleson said he has to be on crutches for another month or so, but that he definitely should be ready to participate in the Lions’ offseason training program.
He underwent surgery nearly two weeks ago, which required five screws and a plate inserted into his right leg to help the bone heal. Fortunately, there was no ligament or cartilage damage in the knee.
“It’s more patience with a broken bone,” said Burleson, who made 27 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions’ first six games. “You’ve just got to let it fuse up and heal together.
“As soon as I’m able to run, I’m going to come back out here and, really, try to earn my spot back. That’s what it’s about. These guys are here to prove their worth and take a position. That’s what they’re supposed to do. I love being competitive. When I get back, I’m going to do my thing.
“I’m fine with having to go out there and show people that I’m one of the best complements to Calvin Johnson (that) there is.”