In a move motivated by salary cap ramifications, the Lions today cut ties with Nate "The Pizza Man" Burleson, who would have counted over $7 million towards the team's cap for this upcoming season. By releasing him, the team had the opportunity to save $5.5 million. Apparently, that was more than enough motivation for the Lions to let the 32-year old receiver walk.
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft out of Nevada Burleson has had a decently productive career, playing for the Vikings (03-05), the Seahawks (06-09) and the Lions (10-13). His next destination is now up in the air. Burleson definitely has some mileage on him, and is entering the "twilight" phase of his career. In his 11 NFL seasons, he has played in 135 games, reeling in 457 catches for 5,630 yards and 39 touchdowns. His career season was 2004 in Minnesota, when he saw career bests in yards (1,006) and touchdowns (9).
Burleson had a bit of a late-career resurgence when he signed a 5-year, 25-million dollar deal in free-agency and joined the explosive Lions offense in 2010. In his first two seasons with the team, he was a very productive member of the receiving corps led by Calvin Johnson. In those two years he played in 30 games, catching 128 passes for 1,382 yards and 9 touchdowns.
But he has not replicated that success in the past two years, mainly due to injury. In 2012 and 2013, he played in just 15 total games with 66 catches for 701 yards and 3 touchdowns, relatively modest numbers for a guy who was set to make a decent chunk of change this year. However, according to ESPN Stats and Info, Matthew Stafford completed 73.6% of passes to Burleson last year, 2nd best among QB-WR duos with 50 attempts. So he is an efficient target when on the field.
He grabbed headlines this year when he broke his arm in an early morning car accident in September, which would eventually cause him to miss a large portion of the season. Reports later surfaced that the accident happened because Nate was trying to save his pizza, which was slipping to it's fateful demise off his passenger seat. He would poke fun at himself later in the season after returning from the injury, mocking a pizza delivery after a touchdown.
He probably isn't so amused now, as the time and production that was missed because of the pizza-fiasco likely led to him being released by the team. Had he played in every game and shown the consistency he demonstrated in the season's early-going, there is obviously a better chance he would have been brought back.
Now the question is- how would he fit in New England? The only way I see it is if he was brought in as a potential replacement for Julian Edelman, should he leave in free agency. If Edelman is retained I don't see much of a need for Burleson on the team. He is a nice player, but he is also undersized at right around 6 feet, and is in the elder stages of his career. Furthermore, I think much of his success in Detroit can likely be attributed to the fact that defenses had to expend a pretty significant amount of their energy trying to contain that freak on the outside named Calivin.
Prior to being cut by the Lions, Burleson had stated he would be willing to take a pay-cut to stay with the Lions. If there is anything Bob Kraft and the Patriots like, it's getting talent from the bargain bin. The question becomes just how big of a pay-cut would Burleson be willing to take to play with a great quarterback and a great team?
Edelman's departure and Burleson's willingness to take a cheap, team-friendly deal is the only scenario I could potentially see him as a Patriot, and I don't think that scenario is very likely. If Edelman returns, I think Burleson would be a redundant player in an offense already full of smaller, slot-receivers. The offense needs taller, more physical receivers who can be factors on the outside.
If the Patriots do bring him in, they would also have to address his very serious issues with eating and driving. What do you guys think? Vote in the poll below and let us know on Twitter: @LiamPCunningham and @PatriotsLife