That becomes even more likely if the club doesn’t work out a contract extension with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to lower his current $22.4 million cap hit set for next season.
A seemingly obvious potential candidate to be affected in this situation is safety Louis Delmas, whose cap hit will be a reported $6.5 million. The Lions could save most of that cap money simply by releasing him.
Delmas, who has had a reputation for being injury-prone, is coming off a surprising season in which he played all 16 games. That was an unexpected development considering his history of knee problems.
His availability, however, came at a price. Delmas’ practice time during training camp and throughout the season was significantly limited, which likely affected his performance, and possibly the defense overall, to some extent in the end.
Delmas, who provides a tremendous emotional lift to the team, graded out as the league’s No. 26 safety based on game reviews by ProFootballFocus.com.
The Lions could save more money by cutting Delmas than anyone else on their roster who is signed for 2014.
But that might not be the plan if you read into a comment made by new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Asked a general question about the defense he was inheriting, Austin immediately mentioned five players who stood out â Suh, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, and … Delmas.
"I know Louis Delmas," said Austin, whose background is coaching the secondary. "Watching him play, he can be a difference-maker."
It seems unlikely that Austin would have included Delmas in that group if the Lions didn’t intend to bring him back.
One is Fairley, a former first-round draft pick.
"When he’s on top of his game, boy, he’s really good," Austin said. "I mean really good."
The trouble is Fairley isn’t on top of his game enough of the time.
"We have to figure out how we can motivate, how we can get him to do that," Austin said. "Whatever it is that touches him that makes him do that, that’s what we have to find out.
"We haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk about all those things or do those things with Nick, but the time will come for that. We’ll do whatever we can to try and help him be more successful. He can be a really dominant player and we just have to have him try and be a dominant player for 16 games. That’s really our goal."
Another player who will get a lot of Austin’s attention is cornerback Darius Slay, a second-round draft pick a year ago.
"I looked at him and you go, ‘Boy, he had his ups and downs,’" Austin said of Slay’s rookie season. "He had some growing pains. There were some times he didn’t look very good and there were some times he looked outstanding.
"Our goal is to try to get him to be a consistent player. That way, that talent will start to take over. He’s a guy that has the ability."
Austin insists that the new staff won’t tolerate them.
"If you tolerate them, then they’ll keep making them," Austin said. "If (a player) continues to make the same mistakes, I always tell them, ‘You can come stand by me.’ Guys don’t want that because I’m on the sideline.
"That’s what, in the past, we’ve done. If a guy continues to make the same mistake, then what we do is we say, ‘Hey, listen. You obviously aren’t doing the things we need you to do for the team. You can come stand by me for a while until you figure out how to do this right.’"
That could be a very crowded sideline if the Lions don’t change their ways.