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Monday open thread: Did the Lions make a mistake by waiving Kerryon Johnson?

Should the Lions have moved on from their former 2nd rounder?

Houston Texans v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

For all the hirings and signings and selections to happen this offseason, waiving Kerryon Johnson might be one of the more surprising moves.

The Detroit Lions opted to part ways with the former second-round running back, an unexpected decision given the minimal depth in the backfield. With Johnson gone, the lone running backs on the team are D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and a trio of rookies—seventh rounder Jermar Jefferson and undrafted free agents Rakeem Boyd and Dedrick Mills.

While Johnson’s role had been significantly reduced from his rookie season, there was plenty of reason to believe he would have been a contributor on offense. The third running back position is usually good for 50-70 carries per season with a handful of receptions. Perhaps the best aspect of Johnson’s game, however, was his pass blocking. He was one of the best pass blocking running backs in the league, proving himself valuable even when the ball wasn’t in his hands. He received praise for being a complete back, but that apparently was not enough to secure a roster spot. The Lions made a similar move when they released another second rounder in Ameer Abdullah back in 2018, as the selection of Johnson in that year’s draft relegated him to a third string role.

There is the possibility that Johnson asked to be waived in order to compete for a starting role elsewhere, with Swift and Williams firmly entrenched as RB1 and RB2—pure speculation on my part. Johnson had a single year left on his rookie deal, and for running backs especially, capitalizing on that second contract is crucial. Perhaps unfortunately for him, the Philadelphia Eagles claimed him, and he might be in a worse position. Much like Detroit, the Eagles have a young running back as their top option, Miles Sanders. Add in fifth rounder Kenneth Gainwell, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, and former Lion Jason Huntley, and you could argue there’s more competition for touches.

As for the Lions, they save approximately $1.37 million in cap space with the move. The Lions aren’t strapped for cash, but that extra million and a bit could be put towards a free agent signing for a team still lacking at some positions. One such free agent could be a running back, given the shallow depth right now. Jefferson likely has the edge over the undrafted rookies, but slotting a seventh rounder—and a late one at that—into Johnson’s role could be a tough task.

Should the Lions have given up on their still-young running back?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Did the Lions make a mistake by waiving Kerryon Johnson?

My answer: I think they did.

If they were doing it as a favor to him, it was a move that likely failed. From a salary perspective, the savings could be marginal. If the Lions sign a free agent back, essentially no money is saved. While I would be on board with signing a free agent safety, I don’t think a cap-saving move needed to be made now. The Lions have enough cap space—even factoring in rookie contracts—and the $1.37 million saved isn’t going to make-or-break a deal.

The timing in particular is odd. Johnson sadly does not have the burst he had as a rookie due to injuries, but waiving him before training camp is perplexing. Given how injury-prone the running back position is, I would have preferred to have him on the roster come August. If something happens to Swift or Williams early on, Johnson would have been a dependable player to sub in. With him off the roster, the starting role would fall to whoever wasn’t hurt, and the backup role would be taken by a late round/undrafted rookie—that does not spark a lot of confidence. Additionally, Johnson might have had some trade value, both now and in the future. If another team’s lead running back goes down with injury, Johnson could have been one of the best available backs out there.

However, it is worth considering the future for the Lions themselves. The 2021 season will likely be a year for growth as they rebuild. Johnson likely did not figure into that rebuild, unfortunately. Although he will be just 24 in June, Johnson’s expiring contract might have made evaluating the rookie running backs more important for this coaching staff. If Jefferson struggles as the third running back, it won’t mean much in the context of the 2021 season. Some regular season experience would prove valuable for him, since he might have been inactive or on the practice squad with Johnson on the roster.

Overall, I think “disappointed” sums up my feelings on the move. Johnson was a beloved character on the team, especially for a team that had jettisoned many of those fun personalities. I think we were all hoping he would turn into an elite running back, but injuries took their toll. However, I still think Johnson could have played a valuable role for the Lions in 2021, even if a rebuild is afoot.

Your turn.


Did the Lions make a mistake by waiving Kerryon Johnson?

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