Allen Park — There were a handful of surprises as the Detroit Lions got the roster down to the 53-player limit Tuesday afternoon, including both of the team’s kickers being cut.
The decision to release both Randy Bullock and Zane Gonzalez certainly doesn’t mean the Lions will go into the season without a kicker. It’s replicating a strategy recently utilized by the New England Patriots, which allows a team to squeeze an extra player on the initial roster, prior to opening a roster spot by moving one or more players to injured reserve.
In Detroit’s case that will be backup quarterback Tim Boyle, who underwent surgery on his thumb on Monday and will be sidelined up to eight weeks, according to an NFL Network report.
What remains unclear is whether the Lions intend to bring back Bullock, a 10-year veteran they signed this offseason, but who struggled at times during camp, or scoop up another option who hits waivers on Tuesday.
In addition to the moves at kicker, the Lions cut three additional veterans and waived 13 others to get the roster to 53. Among the players let go was former second-round pick Jahlani Tavai.
A big-bodied, physical linebacker, Tavai was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft as a schematic fit for former coach Matt Patricia’s defense.
After suffering a shoulder injury at the end of his rookie season, he struggled to regain his momentum from the end of that campaign, slogging through his second year. Analytics website Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst players at the linebacker position in 2020, with his below-average speed hindering him as both a run defender and in coverage.
As the Lions cleaned house of ill-fitting pieces this offseason following Patricia’s firing, Tavai was retained and asked to slim down to be a better fit for the new defensive scheme. He impressed the coaching staff with his commitment, shedding nearly 20 pounds.
But the speed issues lingered, which were compounded by an absence of instinctual play during the preseason. Tavai’s release cleared room for former Wayne State standout Anthony Pittman to make the initial roster.
Here are some notable items from Detroit’s cuts.
► After undrafted rookie A.J. Parker emerged as the team’s top option at nickelback, the Lions opted to part with the two veterans who had competed for the job, releasing both Corn Elder and Nickell Robey-Coleman.
► For the time being, Detroit will carry just two tight ends, Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson and Darren Fells. Alize Mack and Brock Wright had been competing for the third job, but neither managed to do enough to win a job. It’s likely both will be asked to join the practice squad if they clear waivers.
►Following a trade for Trinity Benson on Tuesday, the Lions opted to keep six receivers. He’ll join Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus and Tom Kennedy on the depth chart.
► After getting praise from coach Dan Campbell following the third and final preseason game, safety turned running back Godwin Igwebuike made the team. If he sticks through the next couple weeks, he should contribute on special teams.
► The Lions also kept all five of their top edge rushers following a strong finish to the preseason for both Austin Bryant and Charles Harris.
► There will likely be additional moves in the coming days, beyond re-adding a kicker. The Lions must quickly evaluate the hundreds of players who hit the waiver wire Tuesday in search of upgrades. The team sits seventh on the waiver order and any claim must be filed ahead of Wednesday’s noon deadline.
Additionally, after players clear waivers, the Lions can begin to assemble the team’s 16-man practice squad.
► Here’s a full list of the cuts:
Released: Geronimo Allison, Bullock, Elder, Gonzalez and Robey-Coleman.
Waived: Tavante Beckett, Rashod Berry, Jalen Elliott, Bruce Hector, Tommy Kraemer, Mack, Javon McKinley, Dedrick Mills, Darrin Paulo, Craig Reynolds, Sage Surratt, Tavai, Wright.