O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: What does releasing Burleson and Delmas mean for the Lions?

Posted Feb 14, 2014

The Lions parted ways with two veterans -- Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas -- on Thursday

Burning questions – on what releasing Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas means for the Lions going forward, speculation nationally about whether Ndamukong Suh should be traded, and how to take former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz's comments about Suh and Matthew Stafford.

Q. Money talks loud and clear in pro sports, especially in leagues that have salary caps, and the release of Burleson and Delmas Thursday proved that again. What is that a signal of in the Lions' plans?

A. If history means anything – and it often does – it means that wide receiver and free safety are areas that have been targeted for upgrades in free agency and the draft. The money that was cleared on the salary cap -- $11.5 million combined for the two players -- helps, too.

Last year, the Lions released defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and guard Stephen Peterman early in February. They also made it clear that defensive end Cliff Avril would not be re-signed because of his contract demands.

In the draft, the Lions took defensive end Ziggy Ansah in the first round, guard Larry Warford in the third and defensive end Devin Taylor in the fourth.

Jason Jones, another defensive end, was one of the first players the Lions signed in free agency.

Even if Burleson had remained with the Lions, wide receiver was going to be targeted in the draft and free agency. Now it's even more urgent, as is free safety.

Q. Any chance one or both will be back with a lower contract? If not, how will they be remembered?

A. Extremely doubtful for Burleson to return, and not likely for Delmas but possible.

A year ago, Burleson took a significant cut in base salary, down to $2 million, to return on the fourth year of his five-year contract. The fact that he was not asked to restructure the final year of his contract indicates that the Lions are moving on without him.

Delmas was a free agent in 2013 and signed a two-year deal. His base salary for 2013 is $5.5 million, with a $500,000 roster bonus. Neither is guaranteed. It's possible that he could be brought back if he agrees to play for a lower base salary, but don't count on that. Expect him to move on.

Both players brought passion to the Lions. Delmas came in as a second-round draft pick in 2009 and was a high-energy player. Knee problems limited his practice time and, ultimately, his performance.

Burleson had a nice run as a complement to Calvin Johnson in his four years in Detroit. He had more of a leadership role than in his previous stops in Minnesota and Seattle. He raised his profile nationally, and started building toward a career after football with his work on the NFL Network.

Burleson had nothing but positive comments on Thursday, and that is typical of him. He can leave Detroit with no regrets. He was a solid player on the field, and a pillar in the locker room who always reacted appropriately, win or lose.

Q. Does this mean the Lions have to get younger at wide receiver to take some pressure off Calvin Johnson?

A. It means they have to get better, regardless of whether it's younger, older or the same age group.

Don't be surprised if the wide receiver position this year is like the offensive line of last year, with an extreme makeover.

Q. Trading times for Suh? His situation continues to percolate. With the Combine starting next week in Indianapolis, is this a good time for the Lions to initiate trade talks?

A. It's not like the Lions and the other 31 teams don't have telephones. They can -- and do -- get in touch whenever they want to make a deal.

However, there's something about being face-to-face that moves discussions along more quickly.

But don't expect the Lions, or any other team, to come back from Indianapolis with any kind of trade in the bag. It's too early for that. Free agency starts on March 11, and the draft is May 8.

Q. What are the major pros and cons involved in discussing trading Suh?

A. Three things, whether it's Suh or any other high-profile player: money, value to the team based on performance, and whether the team is better with Suh or with what it could get in return.

Q. Which of the three issues is most important?

A. Performance outweighs everything, and Suh is at the top of his game. It's idiotic for anyone to say he's overrated. He's been All-Pro twice and made the Pro Bowl for the third time in four years in 2013.

If Suh's four seasons with the Lions were mediocre and he had missed a lot of games because of injuries, he'd have no bargaining power. But that isn't the case. He is an elite defensive tackle, and the defense is better with him than without him.

Q. Does money, and the salary cap squeeze outweigh other issues?

A. It has to have an impact, and it's logical to debate how much money a defensive tackle is worth based on his impact compared to elite players at other positions.

Suh's contract will count $22.4 million against the Lions' cap in 2014 without a renegotiation and $19.4 million if they trade or release him.

There is an obvious desire on the Lions' part to extend Suh's contract and lower his cap hit to a more manageable level. If they can get an extension and keep Suh it's a win-win for the Lions. They keep a star player at a lower cap cost. And it's a win for Suh if he gets what he considers a satisfactory contract.

Q. Bottom line: does a trade make sense, and how likely is it?

A. It makes sense if the Lions are convinced they can't get a new deal with Suh, and they're forced to go into the season with a cap value of $22.4 million hanging over them like the thunder clouds about to burst in a summer storm.

If not, then they make the best deal they can, take the big cap hit for 2014 and go into 2015 with cap room.

My choice is to keep Suh, but not at any cost.

Q. Schwartz speaks: He did not have a farewell press conference when he was fired after the season, but he has made some recent comments about Stafford and Suh since landing in Buffalo as the Bills' defensive coordinator. Why speak up after leaving the Lions?

A. Schwartz had positive comments about how Stafford performed when he was head coach, and about his future. There's been no change there.

Concerning Suh, he has refuted charges made by former NFL player Heath Evans that Suh was uncontrollable and had a habit of being late for meetings.

There has been no hard evidence about Suh missing meetings. If it were true, it would damage Schwartz's reputation. No coach wants to have the image of not being able to control his players, and Schwartz's comments were a defense of his record on that issue and understandable.

He was protecting his reputation.