The Detroit Lions made two transactions on Tuesday, both of which could have at least a minor impact on the team. First, the Lions claimed former Patriots and Jaguars tight end Clay Harbor off of waivers, while releasing Orson Charles to make room for the addition. Soon thereafter, the Lions placed Wallace Gilberry on reserve injured and signed Armonty Bryant in his place.
Harbor is an interesting signing for the Lions. Detroit has been struggling with their tight end depth ever since losing Tim Wright to injured reserve. Harbor initially joined the Patriots in a move that seemed motivated by Rob Gronkowski’s injury, but his $400,000 signing bonus made it clear he was at the very least a lock to make the team after cut day.
We reached out to Rich Hill of Patriots blog Pats Pulpit for a little more background on Harbor’s short time in New England and what he brings to the Lions:
Clay Harbor signed a nice contract with the Patriots, but he was unable to find a role with the team. He wasn't as good at fullback as the Patriots incumbent James Develin. He wasn't as good a receiver as Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, or sophomore former-QB AJ Derby. He wasn't as good a blocker as Gronkowski, Bennett, or just a 6th offensive lineman. He didn't really have a role on the team.
Harbor contributed well on special teams, but he really only made the team while Gronkowski was recovering from his injury. Now that Gronkowski is healthy, Harbor didn't have a job. He could be a valuable back-up, but the Patriots were in line to receive a 5th or 6th round compensatory pick if they released Harbor before week 10; it was a no brainer decision.
He's super athletic and you can see it with his yards after the catch, but he doesn't generate as much separation as you would want, so the plays have to be drawn up specifically to get him the ball. That type of function doesn't fly in the Patriots offense.
There’s a few interesting things to note here. First, is his ability to play fullback. The Lions obviously have a fullback in Michael Burton, but they are barely using him right now. Burton has played a total of 12 offensive snaps in the past two games. The addition of Harbor isn’t likely to change that strategy much, but it’s worth considering that his versatility may be more valuable than a guy like Burton, even if he is five years his elder.
Additionally, his athleticism is intriguing. Our own Kent Platte noticed the same thing on Tuesday afternoon:
Still, expectations have to be pretty low overall for Harbor. He may be an upgrade over Charles, and could be better right now than the inexperienced Khari Lee, but this still looks like stopgap move for a banged up Lions squad. Harbor’s future with the Lions will be decided when Brandon Pettigrew is healthy enough to come off the PUP list. If Harbor survives that roster move, he could potentially have a future with Detroit. If not, he was obviously just a temporary solution, much like how the Patriots used him.