Lions keep making moves in midst of labor unrest


Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News

Allen Park — With all eyes focused on the labor unrest in the NFL Thursday, the Lions were busy shaping up their 2011 roster.

The team decided to part ways with veterans Kevin Smith and Julian Peterson while offering restricted free-agent tenders to a number of other players, including linebacker Zack Follett.

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The Lions did not offer a tender to former starting running back Smith, 24, making the fourth-year player a free agent. That doesn’t rule out the chance of Smith re-signing with the Lions, but it seems unlikely at this point.

With Jahvid Best expected to be the back-of-the-future and Maurice Morris coming on strong at the end of last season, the Lions felt Smith was expendable.

That’s good news for Best, a third-year pro out of Cal who thought his career might be over after he was carted off the field with a neck injury while covering a fourth-quarter kickoff during a 28-20 loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands on Oct. 17.

A third-round pick in 2008, Smith showed potential after running for 976 yards as a rookie. But injuries have derailed the last two seasons for Smith, who has rushed for 880 yards combined over that span.

Smith’s 2009 season ended because of a torn ACL. He played in only six games last season and finished it on injured reserve because of torn ligaments in his thumb. He also had a shoulder injury.

Smith rushed for 1,856 yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons with the Lions.

The Peterson move was expected as Lions general manager Martin Mayhew confirmed to reporters last month that the move was imminent.

“We had a meeting, a great meeting, and I thanked him for his two years of service,” Mayhew said.

Peterson, 32, who was scheduled to make $8 million next season, made 15 starts last season and had 83 tackles.

Switching to players that will be wearing Honolulu Blue when camp starts, the Lions offered linebacker Zack Follett an exclusive rights tender for next season.

“I didn’t even know if they would offer me a contract,” Follett said. “I’m just thankful to be offered the opportunity to play for another year.

“I still don’t know if my neck will keep holding up, but I don’t think this contract would have been offered if they didn’t think that it could.”

Follett was placed on injured reserve following the incident in New York, and later told reporters he didn’t know if he’d ever play again after suffering a displaced disk that tapped his spinal cord.

Follett said he’s been intensively rehabbing his neck and feels he’s ready for camp. But he also said there is one more hurdle to cross.

“I haven’t hit anybody yet, so we’ll see,” he said. “Before I actually go back into camp to make it a full go we’ll do another series of tests to make sure there’s more space between the disk and my spinal cord and make sure I won’t be doing any permanent damage.

“It’s a little scary because the one thing the doctors did tell me is that by playing more, my situation can only get worse, and that’s the risk factor that’s involved here.”

The Lions gave fifth-year guard Dylan Gandy and special teams Pro Bowl alternate John Wendling original-round tenders on Thursday and reportedly issued tenders to some of their other four- and five-year players, including cornerback Chris Houston and kicker Dave Rayner.

The original-round tender for Gandy and Wendling mean that another team can offer them a contract but the Lions have the right to match that offer or let them sign with the other team for a fourth-round pick in Gandy’s case and a sixth-round pick for Wendling, the round they were originally drafted in.

Those players could ultimately test the free-agent market as unrestricted free agents, though, depending on the language in the new collective bargaining agreement — whenever it’s agreed upon — as it pertains to free-agent eligibility.

In last year’s uncapped season, free agency changed from four to six years, but it could revert back to four years in the new deal.

The Lions also extended exclusive rights original-round tenders to fullback Jerome Felton (fifth round) and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (third round).

They also reportedly gave a second-round tender to defensive end Turk McBride.

ttwentyman@detnews.com

ttwentyman@detnews.com

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