Burleson’s future in Detroit appears secure

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Nate Burleson’s broken leg was supposed to
open the door for recent draft picks Titus Young and Ryan Broyles to
establish themselves as the Detroit Lions’ top receivers behind Calvin
Johnson.

Burleson even conceded at the time that it could leave
him as the “odd-man out” because he’s due to make $10 million over the
next two seasons.

Two months later, things have changed. The
Lions have a much greater need to bring Burleson back in 2013,
regardless of his salary.

For very different reasons, neither
Young nor Broyles emerged the way Detroit hoped during the second half of
this season, leaving the Lions scrambling to find some playmakers to
complement Johnson.

With two games left, they’re still looking for someone to fill Burleson’s spot.

Young,
a second-round pick in 2011 out of Boise State, turned into a major
headache. He was dismissed from the team for a couple weeks when his
selfish behavior and insubordination became a distraction to his coaches
and teammates. Young finally was put on injured reserve to end his season and
keep him away from the club.

Broyles was showing promise before
having to undergo major surgery earlier this month to repair a torn
anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It was just over a year
after Broyles, a second-round pick in 2012 out of Oklahoma, had surgery
for a similar injury to his left knee.

While Burleson is expected
to be ready to participate in the Lions’ offseason workout program,
there are bigger questions about the status of Young and Broyles.

Many
believe Young has played his final game as a Lion, while Broyles’
rehabilitation likely will carry on through training camp next summer
and into the season.

Welcome back, Nate?

“I like to think so,” Burleson said. “Hopefully, I’ll be back.”

Burleson
indicated he is more than willing to rework his contract to help
the Lions’ salary cap numbers for the next couple seasons.

“Still
got to figure some things out, maybe go talk to management upstairs and
try to figure out a way to keep me around, insure that I retire here,”
he said. “If that takes us adjusting, the organization and myself, I’m
with it. I don’t want to end my career anywhere else. This is my home
right now.

“I think they’ll do what they can and I’m going to do my part.”

Burleson, 31, has played 10 years in the NFL, the first three with Minnesota, four with Seattle and the last three in Detroit.

He
made 27 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns in six games this
season before getting injured Oct. 22 in a Monday night loss in Chicago.

Not
only does Burleson give the Lions a veteran presence on the field, but
his gregarious personality makes him a popular teammate and locker-room
leader.

“I think I’m a little different than the typical pro
ballplayer,” Burleson said. “I’m here to win a championship. I
understand sacrifices have to be made. If it takes sacrifice on my part,
I’ll do that.

“I’m here to give this organization a good athlete
and a good leader and hopefully bring a championship back to Michigan.
I’ll do whatever it takes.”

With the loss of Burleson, Young and
Broyles, the Lions’ receiving corps has been completely depleted behind
Johnson, who is in position to break the NFL record for receiving yards
in a season.

The Lions are now counting on newcomers like Kris
Durham, a practice-squad player for much of the season after being cut
by Seattle, Mike Thomas, acquired in a trade with Jacksonville on Oct.
31, and Brian Robiskie, signed as a free agent on Oct. 24 after being released by Jacksonville.

The trio combined for two catches for 23 yards in Sunday’s 38-10 loss at Arizona.

“We
were very fortunate last year that we didn’t lose a snap to our wide
receivers all season to injury,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “This year, it
wasn’t the same way. Even Calvin, who’s sort of the last man standing
of that group, has battled through his own injuries. It’s amazing the
production he’s been able to have … when he’s been such a marked man.

“We
need guys to step up and make plays on offense. Not everybody has to be
Calvin, but we need to get contributions from a lot of different guys.
We didn’t get enough (against Arizona). We need to get first downs. We
need to make big plays. If we do that, we’ll complement Calvin well. To
do that, they’re going to have to win some one-on-one (matchups).”

The
final two games, including Saturday night against Atlanta at Ford
Field, are an opportunity for these guys to make an impression and
possibly set themselves up for the near future.

But based on what’s happened so far, there is no one who should take a job away from Burleson going into next season.