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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Jeff Risdon

Candidates for the Lions to cut to make room for players returning from injuries

There are a few players who are poised to come back to the Detroit Lions in the coming couple of weeks after missing time with injuries.

It will be a real boost for the Lions to potentially get back players like Alim McNeill, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Jason Cabinda and James Houston. The process already started with the activation of rookie QB Hendon Hooker from the non-football injury list on Tuesday.

With the returns, it means some players currently on the active 53-man roster will need to be cut to make room. Kicker Riley Patterson was the first victim, as he was waived for Hooker to get activated. Michael Badgley is the new kicker, though he remains (for now) on the practice squad. That’s another roster spot that will eventually need to be freed up, too.

Who are the unfortunate likely candidates to be waived when guys like McNeill and Gardner-Johnson return? Remember–all players are subject to waivers from now through the end of the season, so there has to be some strategy involved here.

CB Chase Lucas

The second-year CB has played just six snaps on defense in his two years in Detroit, none this year. While he thrived on special teams as a rookie, in 2023 he’s one of the team’s lowest-graded special teamers at PFF. That passes the eye test, too, with missed tackles and blown blocking assignments.

EDGE Charles Harris

Harris has been a healthy scratch in the last two weeks and saw his playing time radically decrease from the first few weeks, even when he has been in the lineup since the bye week. The veteran is a free agent at the end of the season. He’s especially vulnerable if James Houston, who plays the exact same position and role, returns.

Teams often find ways to keep players like Harris around in situations like this. Cutting him and then quickly bringing him back to the practice squad for good money could be the way to go here.


LB Anthony Pittman

Pittman is another special teams stalwart who almost never plays on defense. In fact, he saw his first four snaps of defensive football this season in the blowout win over the Broncos in Week 15. Unlike Lucas, Pittman is having a very good year on punt and kick units, which makes him a tough one to cut.

This would definitely be a situation where the Lions would want Pittman back and ready to move back onto the active roster once another player is lost to an injury — which is an unfortunate fact of life almost weekly in the NFL. One of the reasons players like Pittman and the others listed here are vulnerable is because Detroit hasn’t lost anyone to I.R. recently to open up spots that way.

CB Steven Gilmore

A great story over the summer as an undrafted rookie who played well enough to stick on the roster, Gilmore has barely played during the regular season. He’s only been active for three games, playing two snaps at cornerback and not playing at all since Week 7.

In that time, the Lions added Kindle Vildor and he quickly sailed past Gilmore on the CB depth chart. Khalil Dorsey has also moved ahead. Gilmore still has potential, but the Lions might have to sacrifice that to get an impactful player like Gardner-Johnson or McNeill back on the roster.

LB Trevor Nowaske

Like Gilmore, Nowaske is an undrafted rookie who did enough to merit sticking around. He was on the practice squad for his hometown team until he was signed to the active roster when another team tried to poach him a few weeks ago.

Nowaske has only been active for the Week 13 game and played exclusively on special teams against the Saints. Because there was recent demand for him elsewhere, Nowaske seems unlikely to be waived now. However, if it comes to keeping him or activating Gardner-Johnson or Houston, that’s a definite vulnerability for Nowaske.

WR Antoine Green

Another rookie, Green is a seventh-round draft pick who has been a healthy scratch since Week 11. The arrival of Donovan Peoples-Jones at the trade deadline cut into Green’s role on both offense and (sparingly) on special teams.

Green is a risk to get claimed by another team, no doubt about it. The Lions would have to weigh how much they value Green’s long-term potential against the short-term boost of a return from Cabinda or McNeill.

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