Allen Park — A week after Bob Quinn said linebacker DeAndre Levy was still in the team’s plans for 2017, the Detroit Lions general manager reversed course. The Lions announced Levy’s release Thursday afternoon.
“On behalf of our entire organization, I would like to thank DeAndre for his many contributions to the Detroit Lions over the past eight seasons,” Quinn said in a statement. “While he excelled as a player during his time with us, DeAndre also had a genuine desire to make a difference off the field, investing a lot of his time and resources in social causes throughout the Detroit community.
“We wish DeAndre the very best in all his future endeavors.”
A third-round pick in 2009, Levy flourished into one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers by 2013, finishing second in the NFL with six interceptions that season. He followed that up with a career-high 151 tackles the next year.
But shortly after inking a four-year, $33 million extension with Detroit during training camp in 2015, injuries bit hard. He suffered a hip injury in practice, which essentially sidelined him the entire season. And last year, knee and quadriceps issues limited him five games.
Lions coaches and teammates continued to publicly express belief Levy would return to his normal self, but that faith wasn’t as strong behind the scenes. Earlier this month, a team source said the Lions were gauging trade interest for the linebacker.
Still, when Quinn took the podium last week, he gave little reason to believe releasing Levy was imminent.
“You know, DeAndre had a challenging year through the injuries, so it’s something that he worked extremely hard behind the scenes to kind of get back,” Quinn said. “It was just a couple of things that kept him out of the lineup. So, you know, as of today I feel like he’ll be back next year and we’ll talk about the contract if it ever comes up. But right now we have nothing to report.”
The Lions are reportedly designating Levy a June 1 first cut, meaning his $7.2 million cap hit will be spread over the next two seasons. The release will free up $4.8 million in cap space in 2017.
Off the field, Levy broke the mold of a stereotypical football player. Each offseason, he would go on exotic travel adventures — trekking through jungles, swimming with sharks and sledding down volcanos.
In recent years, as Quinn alluded to in the statement, Levy became an activist for a number of social issues. He took domestic violence and rape culture head-on in an article for The Players’ Tribune, partnered with a Detroit clothing manufacturer to raise money for women to process untested rape kits and participated in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. earlier this year.
His causes made him a polarizing figure with fans, especially when mounting injuries prevented him from performing as a player, but Levy never backed down from his belief he had a moral obligation to use his platform for good.
“A lot of (NFL players) are selling themselves as a brand, so they ignore what’s happening around them,” Levy told the Detroit News in October. “I can’t do that. This platform is bigger than us. Once this ends, we still have to operate in this world. This is the biggest the platform is ever going to get for most of us. We have to use it for good.”
On an Instagram post on Thursday night, Levy wrote that he was "grateful" for his time with the Lions.
“Man, it's been a great 8 years,” Levy wrote. “The last 2 have been tough personally, but I wouldn't have made it without being around a group of teammates I enjoy being around and want to give my all for. Being a Lion has been tough but rewarding and I'm forever grateful to have been able to spend the last 8 here in Detroit. The last second wins, the heartbreaking losses, the up and down seasons, Gridiron's touchdown song, regime changes, questionable officiating (understatement), all were apart of shaping this amazing experience here. There's not a sports city more deserving of a championship. Thank you, Detroit. Peace.”
Levy’s departure further thins out Detroit’s linebacking corps, one of the team’s weakest position groups in 2016. Middle linebacker and leading tackler, Tahir Whitehead, remains under contract. As does Antwione Williams, a fifth-round draft pick last year. On Wednesday, the team agreed to sign free agent Paul Worrilow.
Largely a special teams contributor last season, Worrilow led the Falcons in tackles the previous three years.
As of Thursday evening, there were still some big names on the free agent market, headlined by New England Patriots Pro Bowler Dont’a Hightower. There are also several prospects who could intrigue the Lions early in the draft, including Temple’s Haason Reddick, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham and Florida’s Jarrad Davis.