Frustrated by what he perceives to be a lack of interest from the Lions, veteran linebacker Larry Foote said he’s planning to test the free-agent market beginning March 5.
“We’re just going to free agency and see from there,” said Foote, citing unproductive talks between his agent, Brian Levy, and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. “I mean, obviously, I’m not a big priority for them. So that’s just how I’m taking it.”
Foote, 29, returned to his hometown on a one-year contract last May after spending his first seven NFL seasons in Pittsburgh. He started 14 games in 2009, leading the Lions with 99 tackles, including nine for loss and two sacks.
When asked about the possibility of re-signing Foote last month, Mayhew said, “I wouldn’t rule out bringing him back. … I thought he brought a lot to the table in terms of his leadership with that group and obviously the things he did in our community. He’s a guy that wants to be in Detroit and obviously that’s important.”
But with the emergence of rookie DeAndre Levy, who started the final two games at middle linebacker with Foote sidelined by an injury, the Lions might be ready to move on. The team also has Ernie Sims and Julian Peterson under contract for 2010, though Peterson is scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2010.
Asked about Levy’s development at the end of the season, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said, “I’ll be really happy, whether he plays in the middle or outside — it doesn’t make any difference. But what I’d like to have him (do) is play the middle spot, so he can call the defenses.”
So does that make Foote expendable?
“I mean, I don’t look at it like that. Me and Levy played all year together, practically,” Foote said, noting Levy started eight games at outside linebacker. “You want to stack up enough good linebackers as you can.”
Foote said he’s “not looking to break the bank” but wants a multiyear deal, not another one-year contract. And he’s well aware he might not fit in the Lions’ long-term plans.
“Just from the business side of it, with a team that’s been losing, they don’t normally invest in veteran players that much, no matter how good you played,” he said. “Because a veteran at my age — I mean, I’m still fairly young — I’m just a piece of the pie, I’m not the base of a team.”
So what’s next? Even as a latecomer to free agency last spring — the Steelers didn’t release him until after the draft — Foote drew interest from other teams, including Arizona, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. And the two-time Super Bowl champ has proven durable, starting 94 consecutive games before suffering a foot injury in late December that forced him to miss the end of last season.
“I’ve never really been a free agent before,” Foote said. “All I can go by is what my agent says, see what’s out there, and it’s in God’s hands after that, really.”