Lions cut guard T.J. Lang, gain $9 million in salary cap space

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park -- The Detroit Lions cut guard T.J. Lang on Friday. 

Entering the final season of the three-year deal he signed in 2017, Lang carried a bloated $11.5 million cap hit for 2019. His release frees up nearly $9 million in space with free agency opening next week, but also creates a massive hole in Detroit's starting lineup. 

T.J. Lang with son J.J. Lang during Lions training camp in 2017.

"I'd like to express my sincerest appreciation to the Detroit Lions organization, particularly (general manager) Bob Quinn, for allowing a kid from Ferndale a chance to accomplish a dream of mine and play for the hometown team," Lang posted on social media. "The love and support has been overwhelming. I meant every word I said at the end of the year when I said, "Stay with us," and although it's no longer us, I beg of you to "stay with them." They are building something special that this town has long deserved, a championship team."

When healthy, Lang, 31 performed well for the Lions, including a Pro Bowl selection in 2017. But injuries were an issue. He missed practice time with hip, back, foot and neck injuries, as well as a concussion. 

A local product, Lang attended Birmingham Brother Rice High School before playing at Eastern Michigan. A fourth-round draft pick in 2009, Lang spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Green Bay Packers. 

As a free agent in 2017, the Lions outbid the Packers and the Seahawks to lure Lang home.

“It was the best move for my family and I, combined with my thought of just how ready Detroit was to win, to put them in contention to win championships” Lang said at the time. “Those two things ultimately trumped everything else and it really became clear to me this morning, and I wanted to get it done as soon as I could.

"I’ve been away for so many years. This is where I grew up. I understand how fans around here are so hungry to have a championship football team — I was one of them when I was a kid. Not to be cliché, but every kid dreams about playing for their hometown team and I was no different. When this opportunity came about I got really excited about it."

Coming off offseason surgery to address a hip injury, Lang was significantly limited throughout the offseason program and preseason that year, but that didn't prevent him from having a solid debut campaign in Detroit.

Despite missing a nearly a quarter of the team's regular season snaps due to injury, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career. 

T.J. Lang

Entering training camp this year, Lang said it's was the best he felt in five years. It was also the first time in three years he didn't require offseason surgery, leaving him cautiously optimistic about the future.

But early in training camp he was sidelined by a lower leg injury. He returned in time for the regular season, but suffered a brutal concussion in Week 4 after colliding with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith. 

It was the sixth documented brain injury of Lang's career. Surprisingly, he only missed one game, returning to action after the team's bye.

While recovering, Lang met with several specialists in the area, seeking advice about whether he should resume his career. 

"A few of them had different opinions,” Lang said. “But for the most part it was, ‘I think you’ll be fine to play. I don’t think there’ll be ramifications further down the line if you continue to play.’ There were some tough conversations for sure, but it is what it is.”

Three games after returning to action, Lang suffered his season-ending neck injury while attempting to make a diving tackle on an interception return in Week 9. 

After the season, Lang was uncertain about his future, but seemed to lean toward returning. He even hinted that he'd be open to taking a pay cut to stay with the Lions. 

"I think when I signed here, the biggest thing I wanted to be part of something big for this city," Lang said. "I want to be part of a football team that the fans deserved. That was really the driving force. You can attribute that to me growing up here, living here, being a fan of this team.

"I don’t care what anything else looks like, if I get another chance to be on this team, that would be a great opportunity to myself," Lang said. "You can interpret that however you want."

But that didn't come to fruition and the team made the decision to move on without the accomplished veteran. Quinn and coach Matt Patricia released a joint statement when the move was announced. 

“We would like to personally thank T.J. Lang for his two seasons with the Lions," the statement said. "He represented everything you could want from a football player and team captain. We all publicly saw him perform on the field at a very high level, but what was seen in the building every day was a player who had great leadership, professionalism and passion for the game of football. It meant a lot for T.J. to play in his home city and we have the utmost respect for him as a man. We wish T.J. and his family all the best in the future.”

The in-house options to replace Lang are underwhelming. Kenny Wiggins, who filled for Lang last season, struggled in the starting role. And Joe Dahl, the other candidate, didn't show enough on the practice field to merit an opportunity. 

Some outside observers believe Tyrell Crosby, a fifth-round pick last year, could slide inside. A number draft evaluators suggested a move to guard could be in Crosby's future, but the Lions worked him almost exclusively at tackle last season. 

Quinn could look to address the spot in either free agency or the draft. Among the available free agents, nine-year starter Rodger Saffold is the best available at the position. 

In the draft, assuming the Lions don't draft an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in four years, there should be plenty of options in Day 2. That group includes Boston College's Chris Lindstrom, Penn State's Connor McGovern, Northern Illinois' Max Scharping or Wisconsin tandem Beau Benzschawel or Michael Deiter.