Under contract for one more season, Tulloch is due to make $5.5 million in base salary in 2016 with a salary cap number of $7.1 million. Back from an ACL injury suffered last season, Tulloch returned to post a good season against the run but proved a liability in pass coverage.
That led to a decreased role outside of base packages and obvious running situations and puts Tulloch on many lists of current Lions who may not return next season. Despite the decreased role, Tulloch still finished second among Lions linebackers with 737 snaps played according to Pro Football Focus data. Moving on from Tulloch requires at least a general plan for how to replace him.
Although early in the draft process, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland has already emerged as one of a few fan favorites for the Lions to consider in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. But waiting on the draft could be a risky proposition as there would be no guarantee of Ragland’s availability and because the draft comes after the opening of the free agency period.
The prudent choice could be to pencil in Tulloch’s previous replacement as his permanent replacement. Tahir Whitehead stepped in at middle linebacker admirably last season after Tulloch was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The move may have been viewed as temporary as Whitehead shifted back outside this season with Tulloch back in the lineup, but Whitehead apparently now views himself more of a middle linebacker.
He had the following to say on locker clean out day, via DetroitLions.com:
"“When I look at it, me personally, I see myself as a MIKE,” he said. “To be able to utilize my speed and being able to play sideline to sideline.“Never really playing MIKE prior to last year (2014), I’ve grown to really like the position and get comfortable there. I see myself as a MIKE backer.”"
For the Lions, it is not as simple as agreeing with Whitehead’s view because he is not signed for the 2016 season. Beyond playing well there last season, all it takes is a cursory look at the average contract value for inside linebackers versus 4-3 outside linebackers to see there is financial incentive for Whitehead to brand himself a middle linebacker.
More from Detroit Jock City
- Tigers Sign Manager A.J. Hinch to Long-Term Extension
- Lions vs. Bears Week 14 Opening Odds Disrespect Detroit
- Former Tigers Celebrate Jim Leyland Hall of Fame Call
- This Pistons Team Could be the Worst in Detroit Sports History
- 4 Free Agents Tigers Should Sign During Winter Meetings
Whitehead has indicated a desire to return to the Lions and despite an odd situation that left him on the sideline for much of the first half of the season, the Lions would be wise to be interested in his return.
Even if that happens, that doesn’t have to take Ragland out of consideration when the draft rolls around.
The versatility of Whitehead gives the Lions options and as long as he re-signed with full understanding between team and player that his position will be dependent on what is best for the team overall, re-signing Whitehead keeps all options on the table.