Tight end Tony Scheffler, who played at Western Michigan, came to the Lions from the Broncos in a trade. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — Jim Schwartz wouldn’t go there.
Pressed for reasons why veteran tight end Tony Scheffler was cut after he was medically cleared to play Tuesday, Schwartz wouldn’t blame it on his history of concussions or a decline in productivity since he suffered a worrisome head injury against Chicago in 2011.
“I wouldn’t pin it on that,” Schwartz said. “I think he’s been a good player over the course of his career. We wish him the very best and appreciate all he’s done for us.”
Scheffler suffered his third head injury in four seasons in Week 5 at Green Bay. He missed the next two games and was cleared to resume practice Tuesday. Instead, he was summoned to general manager Martin Mayhew’s office and told he’d been released.
“They are all difficult decisions,” Schwartz said. “But where we are with the offensive line, we had a couple of guys not finish the game and we needed to sign another guy. We had played the previous two games without Scheff, so we had a plan for being able to deal with that in the short term.”
Scheffler’s roster spot was taken by veteran offensive tackle Barry Richardson.
“It’s very difficult,” Schwartz said. “He’s been a very productive player for us. He’s made a lot of big plays for us. But we have to move on.”
Scheffler caught six touchdown passes in 2011, four after he was rushed to the hospital after a helmet-to-helmet collision against the Bears. Still, his production gradually declined. He wasn’t as fearless going across the middle, short-arming passes, and his target-to-catch ratio grew steadily worse.
Last season, with the Lions woefully undermanned at receiver because of injuries and the defection of Titus Young, Scheffler was targeted 84 times — and caught 42.
He probably could sense the writing was on the wall when his playing time was severely limited through the exhibition season and undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria started to emerge as a preferred red zone target.
Scheffler even joked this season about Fauria not only taking his playing time but stealing his touchdown dances. To his credit, Scheffler remained a professional, hard-working presence on and off the field.
“It’s that I am happy to be here,” he said, explaining his mind-set. “I’m from Michigan. I grew up here, grew up as a Lions fan. I am happy to be part of this organization. So whatever role I’m asked to do, I am going to be happy doing it.”
Fauria and starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew said they were surprised by the team’s decision to release Scheffler.
“It’s just part of the business,” Pettigrew said. “He’s fine. I haven’t really talked to him too much. I imagine he’s been busy. I didn’t want to bug him.”
Pettigrew and Fauria are the only tight ends on 53-man roster. Typically they carry, and use, three.
“We had more two tight-end packages so we’re a little limited,” Schwartz said. “But we’re using more two-back packages and that’s picked up some of it. We are using some three-receiver sets, as well. So we’re doing it in a little different way.”
Calls and e-mails to Scheffler’s agent, Bus Cook, were not immediately returned. This was the last year of Scheffler’s deal with the Lions and he will get the full $2.45 million he was owed.
“Hopefully he gets somewhere,” Pettigrew said. “I definitely learned a lot. He was just a good guy all around. He just brings a good aura, just that good personality. Not just to me, to everybody.”
There has been speculation the Bears could be interested in signing Scheffler, which would add to the drama Nov. 10 when Detroit travels to Chicago.