This is quickly turning into a house-cleaning for the Detroit Lions.
Detroit, coming off a 4-12 season after making the playoffs the year before, already released three players who were signed for 2013 in the first stage of what appears to be a significant offseason makeover.
First came disgruntled receiver Titus Young on Monday, followed Tuesday by veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch, 34, and Stephen Peterman, 31, both of whom were going to make more than they were worth in a salary-cap era.
Vanden Bosch’s work ethic and experience were a key part of the franchise’s turnaround that led to a 10-win season in 2011.
Defensive end Cliff Avril, who is an unrestricted free agent and also might not return next season, wasn’t the only one who looked up to Vanden Bosch.
“I would dedicate the majority of my success and how I turned my career around to him,” Avril said while cleaning out his locker on New Year’s Eve, the day after the regular season ended. “I have so much respect for him and how he approaches the game. He basically taught me how to become a pro.”
On Tuesday, after the news about Vanden Bosch came out, Avril posted the following message on Twitter: “Heard they just release the one guy that took me under his wing, a great teammate, a great person, my brother KVB…”
The problem is that Vanden Bosch’s production slipped considerably in his 12th year in the NFL, third in Detroit. The Lions failed to generate the pass rush they needed from their defensive ends, and Vanden Bosch was the main reason. He finished with just 3½ sacks. He also had no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.
In the 2011 playoff season, Vanden Bosch made eight sacks, forced four fumbles and had one fumble recovery.
More than anything, his leadership will be missed in the Lions locker room. He did things the right way. He just didn’t do some of them very well in the end.
“It’s tough,” Vanden Bosch said following a season-finale loss to Chicago. “You feel like you were turning the corner as a franchise and for the people and for the city. It’s frustrating to let down the fans.”
His departure increases the likelihood that the Lions will take advantage of an NFL Draft that is considered loaded with talent at defensive end.
Among those that the Lions are expected to target with the No. 5 pick overall are Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo.
The Lions, who entered the offseason with serious salary-cap concerns, will save about $5 million in cap space by dumping the final year of Vanden Bosch’s contract. The Lions are also going to trim more than $3 million off their cap figure by releasing Peterman, who played right guard on the offensive line.
Peterman, a third-round draft pick by Dallas in 2004, spent seven years with the Lions and started every game the last three seasons. His dismissal, however, seemed to become almost inevitable ever since general manager Martin Mayhew stressed that the offensive line allowed too much pressure up the middle on quarterback Matthew Stafford this past season.
The Lions’ top five offensive linemen started all but one game together in 2012 and all but six games over the last three years. That continuity is coming to an end. Left guard Rob Sims appears to be the only one up front who is definitely expected to be back in place next season.
There has been considerable speculation that the Lions also will consider releasing center Dominic Raiola because of his $6 million cap hit. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is one of the team’s 23 unrestricted free agents. Left tackle Jeff Backus hasn’t announced whether he will return for his 13th season or retire.
Riley Reiff, a first-round draft pick in 2012, should move into the starting lineup somewhere on the line next season, probably at one of the tackle spots although he is also capable of playing guard.
Other options include guard/center Bill Nagy, who was claimed off waivers in August from Dallas and is coming back from an ankle injury, and guard/center Rodney Austin, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Elon University last May.
The coaching staff is also extremely high on tackle/guard Jason Fox, a restricted free agent who probably will be re-signed.
The St. Louis Rams were the only team to claim Young off waivers.
The Lions released Young, who missed the final six games for disciplinary reasons, because they apparently believed they would be unable to trade him.
The Rams are coached by Jeff Fisher, who is good friends with Lions coach Jim Schwartz. Schwartz was Fisher’s defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans.
Fisher has shown he’s willing to take some risks while trying to rebuild the Rams. The club drafted supposedly troubled cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the second round last year. Jenkins scored four touchdowns as a rookie on three interception returns and one fumble recovery.