- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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His knees were always going to be a problem.
At age 26, with a cap number of $6.5 million on a team that desperately needed to recover some room to get under the 2014 salary cap, safety Louis Delmas was going to be a target for either a major pay cut or what happened Thursday, which was a full release from the Detroit Lions.
Unlike Nate Burleson, who was also released Thursday as a cap cut, Delmas was done in by his injury history. While Delmas, who like Burleson was a loud presence in the huddle and in pregame, played all 16 games this season, he could barely practice during the week.
And there were little guarantee his knees would be able to hold up in the long term, even as he took care of them well during the 2013 season. Considering Detroit’s struggles in the secondary throughout last season and Delmas’ sometimes erratic and wild play, it wasn’t worth it to the team to keep him on the payroll at the price he was going to cost Detroit.
He is an exciting player who can make big hits, but those hits had cost the Lions at times this season, both in terms of personal foul penalties and, in one instance, injuries when he had a head-to-head collision with cornerback Bill Bentley that gave him a concussion.
Delmas was often praised as being more consistent this season than he had been in prior years. His chemistry with Glover Quin, who was brought in as a free agent last season, was a big part of that. And even his new coaches, Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin, had positive things to say about Delmas.
But it wasn't enough to retain his services for 2014 at the salary he was going to make. If the team doesn’t target a safety early in free agency and Delmas is still around, the team could reach out to him to return, but one would have to surmise the team will at least investigate other options first.
How the team handles the safety position could be intriguing. This could be a sign the team has more confidence in Don Carey, who played a lot of nickel last season and signed a three-year extension before the season ended, to become a full-time starter opposite Quin.
There is also the NFL draft, and while it would still be surprising to see the Lions take a safety early in the draft, if Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is around at No. 10, he could be worth taking a hard look at. Calvin Pryor from Louisville and Deone Bucannon from Washington could both fit as second-day selections if they are there.
Much like Burleson on the offensive side, Detroit will lose fire from the defensive huddle without Delmas. The Lions will also lose two of their bigger characters in the locker room, both of whom knew how to keep the mood light for teammates no matter what was going on.
That can’t be understated -- and it will be one area where Detroit will have to find new leadership, for sure, in 2014.