Detroit Lions release Theo Riddick: What it means for rest of running backs

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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The timing was more of a surprise than the move itself, but the Detroit Lions released veteran running back Theo Riddick on Saturday to make room for new defensive tackle Mike Daniels.

Riddick, 28, was one of the most productive third-down backs in the NFL in recent seasons, averaging 62 catches over the last four years.

But he seemed like an odd fit for a Lions offense that added C.J. Anderson as a free agent and Ty Johnson in the draft this offseason, especially given his $3.2 million base salary and dwindling production.

Riddick averaged a career-low 6.3 yards per catch last season and had an uncertain role in new coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense.

Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick reaches for the ball as New York Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis defends in the first half in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

The Lions plan to use more multiple tight end looks this fall, and both starting running back Kerryon Johnson and Ty Johnson, the sixth-round pick, are viable receiving options.

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"I’m not going to really get into the details of (why we released Theo) more than just for us and the team and where we’re going right now and kind of some of the things we see and the depth that we have at certain position, I would say obviously bringing in Mike we needed to find a spot," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "For us, Theo obviously is a great professional, he’s a great player, he did a lot of great things for us through the course of the years and we have all the respect in the world for everything that he’s done. But in any of those situations we’re going to try to do what’s best for the team."

Daniels, who was released by the Green Bay Packers earlier this week, officially signed a one-year deal on Saturday that will pay him up to $9.1 million.

By cutting Riddick, the Lions will save more than $3.6 million cap room.

Riddick, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2013, became one of the best third-down backs in the NFL after starting his career in a special-teams capacity.

He caught a career-high 80 passes for 697 yards in 2015 and had at least 53 catches in each of the last three years. His 285 career receptions are 67 shy of Barry Sanders' team record for a running back.

Lions running back Theo Riddick walks off the field after practice during training camp on Friday, July 26, 2019, in Allen Park.

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Patricia said the Lions are "still in the middle of competing" to determine how they'll replace Riddick's production, but both Kerryon Johnson and Zach Zenner and candidates for third-down work, and both Johnsons — Ty Johnson, if he wins the kick-return job — could contribute in two-minute situations.

Patricia pointed to the Lions' deeper group of tight ends as another area that can fill Riddick's role.

"There’s different creative ways that we can get some of that production from other players or different personnel groups, maybe different sets, different looks, and we’ll explore that as we go through training camp and find out who can do it the best and help us and produce in those areas," Patricia said. "And certainly some of the players that you saw on the field last year that were able to do some of those things in the passing game coming out of the backfield, we expect them to do that this year, too."

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson watches drills during minicamp practice Thursday, June 6, 2019 in Allen Park.

Kerryon Johnson led the Lions with 641 yards rushing in just 10 games as a rookie last season and caught 32 passes out of the backfield.

Riddick, for his part, sounded confident about his chances to make the Lions roster in a brief interview with the Free Press on Friday.

"I just think that all the room, everyone we have in the room is very talented, and they can really play ball," Riddick said. "The competition level has been raised, and really has been risen. We’re just excited and enthusiastic about working together."

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter. Free Press sports writer Greg Levinsky contributed to this report.

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