The Lions' situation at linebacker has been one of the more interesting storylines this offseason. The emergence of DeAndre Levy at the end of 2009 set the wheels in motion for the Larry Foote saga that ultimately resulted in him going back to Pittsburgh, but that was far from the only thing going on at the position. For example, Ernie Sims was traded to Philadelphia right before the draft, opening up a starting spot at linebacker and causing speculation to fly over who would replace him.
The other storyline at linebacker dealt with Julian Peterson. Going into the offseason, many believed out of Peterson, Foote, and Sims, it was the former Spartan that had the smallest chance of returning to the Lions. After all, he isn't getting any younger, and his contract this year is worth $7.5 million. What's more, Martin Mayhew revealed at the combine that he had talked with Peterson's agent, possibly about restructuring his contract.
All of the speculation over what would happen with Peterson was really pushed aside by the other storylines that I already mentioned. With the news that Foote was not going to be brought back and Sims was headed to Philly, suddenly Peterson became an afterthought because he was the only proven linebacker left on the roster. That is still the case as we near June, and it looks like that will probably not change as we get closer to the season, both because right now it doesn't seem like the Lions are going to bring in a new linebacker and also because it doesn't look like Peterson is going anywhere.
Peterson said Thursday he hadn't heard about his contract since Mayhew's initial talk with Poston.
"As far as I know, they just had a nice conversation," Peterson said. "I'm still here. We'll see. I want to stay here."
The Lions could approach Peterson again before the regular season starts. But unless they are willing to cut or trade him, they would have no leverage. And it should be noted there is no salary cap in the NFL this year.
Asked whether he has any nervousness or feels in limbo at all, Peterson said: "I've been around too long. It is what it is, at times. You can't worry about that. You've got to go out here and do your job, everything else will take care of itself."
Big contract or not, the Lions can't afford to lose a player like Peterson in my opinion. If Larry Foote had been re-signed or if Ernie Sims was still on the team, then the Lions would have some flexibility and as mentioned in the quote above, some leverage. Right now, though, Peterson has the leverage simply because he is the Lions' only proven linebacker. Detroit can't go to him and say, "Julian, we need to restructure your deal or make a move to get rid of you. We have younger players that deserve a chance, so it's your call -- take the pay cut or pack your bags."
The reason the Lions can't say that is because they essentially already did with Foote and Sims. Foote wanted a deal the Lions weren't going to offer, so Detroit decided to simply go with DeAndre Levy. With Sims, they had the opportunity to trade him because they obviously feel good enough about somebody like Zack Follett. While a hole was created, Lions coaches must not be too concerned about the task of finding someone to replace Sims.
With two changes coming already to the starting lineup at linebacker this coming season, the Lions can't afford to cut a veteran like Peterson loose. That would stretch the depth too thin, and besides, in this case paying the $7.5 million is worth it to not have to worry about the linebacker position suffering from another loss.