The case of Stephen Tulloch is an interesting one. Back in February, Tulloch announced his farewell to the Detroit Lions via Instagram. "Last but not least I want to thank the community of Detroit for being behind me and my foundation over the years in making a difference in many lives. Such as life there is constant change. But change that I'm looking forward to. As one chapter closes in my career another one opens up," Tulloch wrote via the social media platform. It seemed clear that the Lions were dumping Tulloch and his $7.3 million cap hit. Later, reports confirmed this suspicion.
But it's a month later and the Lions have not officially released Tulloch from his contract. He remains a Detroit Lion five days into free agency, despite the fact that he was owed a $500,000 bonus either Sunday or Monday. So what are the Lions waiting for? Is Tulloch not getting cut after all? Are the Lions pulling off some sort of sneaky move? Or is something else going on? Chris Lemieux and I present a few theories:
Reisman: The reason Tulloch hasn't been released is because he has told the team he will be retiring instead. Tulloch is 31 years old, and this is becoming the new norm. B.J. Raji is the latest player to announce his retirement, and he's only 29.
Obviously, the Lions don't want to be the team that embarrasses a player by cutting him just before he retires. Plus, if Tulloch does retire, the Lions may be able to recoup some of Tulloch's signing bonus. The Lions were able to recoup some of Calvin Johnson's signing bonus upon retirement so they could potentially get some of Tulloch's prorated signing bonus of $1.3 million back. However, teams typically only go after the money after an unexpected retirement. Tulloch is in his final year of his contract, so the Lions probably aren't banking on a return of money.
Instead, the Lions did Tulloch a solid by letting him earn that $500,000 bonus as a "thank you." Perhaps, as a favor for giving him time to get his retirement in order, Tulloch has agreed to return some of that bonus back to the team.
It's all admittedly a bit far-fetched, but that certainly seems more plausible than...
Lemieux: Than what, Tulloch coming back to the Lions? I'll thank my illustrious boss for setting me up as being the loon in this arrangement, but no matter. The roster right now points towards my theory. With Travis Lewis moving on to the frigid wastelands of Minnesota and Kyle Van Noy still potentially MIA for whatever reason, Tulloch's the only one that's slotted to play middle linebacker. The free agent market for the position still has a little meat to it but any pursuit would beg the question as to what it would be worth to replace Tulloch at this point.
The Lions fanbase at large wants Reggie Ragland in the draft, but what's missing from that dream is any contingency plan should Ragland be off the board before pick no. 16. This is a real possibility and it has to be confronted. The drop-off at ILB after Ragland makes the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror seem a smooth roll down a Kansas hill. You could draft one of the outside linebackers and try to ask Whitehead or the new kid to convert to middle, I suppose.
But no matter what happens the draft, the name of the early Bob Quinn era is depth. Right now, the Lions have no depth at middle linebacker. The old adage about known quantities over new questions seems to be in play here.
Reisman: But has anything like this ever happened? Has a team ever notified a player they were releasing him and then changed their mind? And what could have possibly changed their mind?
The Lions are fine without Tulloch and his hefty contract. Whitehead has nearly a full season's worth of experience at middle linebacker, and while that leaves the rest of the linebacking crew a little thin, the Lions plan on having only two linebackers on the field for 70 percent of the snaps next year. That leaves Whitehead and DeAndre Levy as Detroit's two starting linebackers. I'm completely fine with that.
Lemieux: I'm not sure what could have changed their minds. Logic says it's probably not the loss of Travis Lewis, but I also believe that anything can happen in the opening days of a new front office. Chaos, I tell you.
We can both agree here there's no reason to cut him now; the Lions may have given him a little extra with the roster bonus but he's hurt looking for suitors at this point in the free agency game.
But there is another possibility we've not touched on, the notion that Tulloch might still be trade bait. Tulloch remains an asset. Admittedly it's a rather pricey asset that few might be compelled to take on, but one that could still be useful as a bargaining chip as part of a larger package.
Reisman: A trade is an intriguing option and in a way makes a lot of sense. A team sees the Lions are cutting Tulloch and tries to contact Detroit before they make the move so they can have a free shot at him before hitting the market.
The big hurdle is what team would be willing to take on Tulloch's one remaining year in his huge contract? Enter, the Cleveland Browns:
@PrideOfDetroit Tulloch and a 2nd round pick for Joe Thomas. Gives Cleveland $2.5M more in cap relief. Both r 31 yrs old. LT set for 3 yrs— Rahmon Gharajanloo (@RGharajanloo) March 14, 2016
Trade speculation is admittedly a fool's errand as fans typically have a distorted view of a player's worth. But I like this trade a lot. It makes a lot of sense, and there have been rumblings about the Brown looking to move Joe Thomas. What do you think?
Lemieux: Personally if I'm the Browns I don't touch Joe Thomas, not even in this particular phase of the rebuild. Not only do six-year first-team All Pro tackles like that just refuse to grow on trees, but he's a bit of a hero among the Browns fanbase and is now the longest tenured athlete in Cleveland since the Cavaliers shipped Anderson Varejao out of town. Emotionally, this is like asking if the Lions should have traded Jason Hanson.
But everything has a price in this league. I suppose it's a possibility but not one I'm hedging on coming to fruition. I don't see the Lions getting a stellar grade on whatever trade that might involve Tulloch, but I do see the potential that he gets shipped in play here, along with the other two ideas we've cooked up.