Calling Theo Riddick a running back is a bit misleading, as he’s really more of a pass-catcher than a ball-carrier. In three of his six seasons with the Lions, the 28-year-old Riddick has garnered more pass targets than rush attempts. He’s been a valuable asset in Detroit’s receiving game, but is he a lock to remain on the club’s roster in 2019?
The Lions’ run game has been a disaster for most of Matthew Stafford ‘s tenure under center. Detroit famously went without a single-game 100-yard rusher from 2013 until September of 2018, when rookie Kerryon Johnson accomplished the feat against the Patriots. Johnson is expected to handle the majority of the Lions’ carries next season, although Detroit management has refrained from labeling him a “bellcow.” The Auburn product posted 641 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 118 attempts last year, but missed most of the second half of the campaign with a knee injury.
Detroit set out to add at least one more option to its backfield this offseason, and general manager Bob Quinn & Co. zeroed in on a pair of Rams alums. First, the Lions inked Los Angeles restricted free agent Malcolm Brown to a two-year, $3.3MM offer sheet, but the Rams ultimately matched those terms and retained the 26-year-old. The Lions looked elsewhere on the market and found fellow ex-Ram C.J. Anderson , signing the veteran to a one-year pact worth $1.5MM .
Johnson and Anderson are locks for the Detroit roster, so assuming the Lions keep four running backs, Riddick will compete with Zach Zenner and sixth-round rookie Ty Johnson for a roster spot. If the Lions feel as though they need a dedicated pass-catching back, Riddick should be safe. If not, or if Detroit thinks Kerryon Johnson will handle enough receiving work on his own, the Lions could retain the special teams skills of Zenner and take a flier on a minimum salary player like Ty Johnson.
Riddick’s contract — not his talent — is his true barrier to making the Lions’ roster. The Notre Dame product agreed to a three-year, $11.5MM extension with Detroit in 2016, and he’s set to count for $4.625MM on the team’s 2019 salary cap. If the Lions release Riddick, they’ll clear all but ~$963K of that total.
There’s an argument to be made that if the Lions wanted to cut Riddick, they would have already done so. But it’s also possible that Detroit will wait until the regular season is closer to part ways with Riddick. He’d have little leverage at that point, and could probably be pressured into accepting a pay cut (or simply re-signing with Detroit at a cheaper rate after being released).
Riddick can still be a valuable player as a pass-catcher, but it’s hard to see the Lions being comfortable with his near $5MM cap charge, especially given the projected workload of Johnson and Anderson. Therefore, Riddick could find himself on the free agent market later this summer.
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