The termination of the contract of Chris Houston, above, was how the Lions managed to open enough salary cap space for first-round tight end Eric Ebron's $12.25 million contract, which he signed earlier Friday. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Just one year after signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract, the Lions have released cornerback Chris Houston, the team announced Friday.
Houston started 54 games at cornerback the past four seasons after being acquired from the Atlanta Falcons in 2010 for two draft picks, a sixth-rounder in 2010 and a seventh-rounder in 2011.
Houston underwent toe surgery last month and was absent from Lions headquarters for the duration of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, which concluded Thursday.
“Chris Houston underwent a significant medical procedure this spring,” the Lions said in a statement. “Both parties felt that the best course of action at this time is to release Chris and allow him to rehabilitate his injury away from the club.”
Houston’s camp, meanwhile, remains confident that he will play in the NFL in 2014 despite the recent surgery.
“We anticipate Chris making a full recovery and playing football again this season,” Jonathan Feinsod, Houston’s agent, said.
Houston could return to the Lions at some point, but the possibility has not yet been discussed.
The termination of Houston’s contract was how the Lions managed to open enough salary cap space for first-round tight end Eric Ebron’s $12.25 million contract, which he signed earlier Friday.
Because the Lions waited until after June 1 to release Houston, the unpaid portion of his remaining bonus will be favorably prorated for the team for this year's salary cap. With $5.2 million remaining on his bonus, $1.3 million will count against the cap in 2014 and $3.9 will be on the books in 2015.
Houston’s cap number in 2014 would’ve been $4.8 million, so the Lions saved $3.5 million this season. However, Houston’s contract included a $2 million injury guarantee, so if he doesn’t sign with another team because of the injury, he could file a grievance.
Ebron’s salary cap hit will be about $2.2 million in 2014, so the Lions now have about $2 million in cap space this year.
With Houston released, the Lions are displaying confidence in second-year cornerback Darius Slay, a second-round pick in 2013, to be their top cornerback. Veterans Rashean Mathis and Cassius Vaughn both played well during the offseason practices and should compete for the other starting job while Bill Bentley and fourth-round rookie Nevin Lawson compete for nickel cornerback duties.
The Lions are still hoping for contributions from Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood in their third NFL season.
Houston hurt the toe in December and suffered a previous foot injury during the 2013 season, but he struggled even when healthy. In 12 starts in 2013, Houston had two interceptions, nine passes defensed and 44 tackles.
He had his best season in 2011 when the Lions went 10-6 and went to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Houston had a career-high five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, as well as 14 passes defensed and 54 tackles.
“The Lions appreciate Chris' contributions over the years and wish him the best in his recovery,” the team’s statement concluded.