Editor's note: Story updated at 7:07 p.m.
A couple of weeks ago, running back Kevin Jones was at Lions headquarters. Everything seemed fine.
He went back to Arizona to rehab his surgically repaired right knee. He planned to come back to Detroit late this week, because the Lions start their off-season conditioning program Monday.
And so, according to two sources, he was shocked this morning when president Matt Millen called to tell him he was going to be released.
The Lions later announced the release of Jones and defensive end Kalimba Edwards, who did not expect to return. Two more players once considered building blocks of the Lions’ future are now, already, gone.
Millen and coach Rod Marinelli were unavailable for comment.
In a statement, Marinelli said: “With the off-season program beginning next week and with our draft preparation intensifying, we decided this was the right time to make these two roster moves.
“While there are always a number of factors that go into this type of decision, we do believe these moves bring clarity to our roster and also eliminate some uncertainty heading into the draft that would have otherwise existed.”
The draft is April 26-27. It is supposed to be deep in running backs, and the Lions have the No. 15 pick. The top-rated running backs are Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall and Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart.
Jones’ release comes at a time when the Lions want to run the ball more, with Jim Colletto replacing Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. The Lions cut Jones, a first-round pick in 2004, even though they lost T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones to Seattle in free agency. They re-signed Tatum Bell and Aveion Cason, and they also have Brian Calhoun, who is coming back from a knee injury, too.
The sources said the Lions gave Jones two reasons for his release: the salary cap and injuries. Jones had one year left on his contract with a base salary of $2.37 million. One source said there was a possibility he could return at a lower number, depending on how things play out. He is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, after coming back from a serious foot injury last year.
Jones was injured in December 2006 while trying to score a touchdown against Minnesota. That was a Lisfranc injury, a tearing of the tissues that connect the bones in the middle of the foot.
After surgery and months of rehab — even including an unconventional heat acupuncture therapy in a Saline man’s basement — Jones returned in Week 3, earlier than many projections.
Jones managed his soreness every week so he could be ready for games, but he didn’t get to carry the ball much. He had only three games with 20 carries or more — and at least 92 yards and a touchdown in each of them. He suffered a torn ACL after catching a screen pass late in the first half Dec. 23 against Kansas City and had reconstructive surgery.
His final rushing numbers for 2007: 153 carries, 581 yards, eight touchdowns. The attempts and yards were career lows, the touchdowns a career high.
Edwards, a second-round pick in 2002, signed a five-year, $20-million contract with the Lions in ’06. He hoped Marinelli, a defensive line guru, would turn him into one of the NFL’s top pass rushers. He talked about double-digit sacks.
But he had only three sacks each of the past two seasons. He opened last season as the starting right defensive end, missed four games because of injuries and ended up inactive for the last four games. He didn’t even travel for the last two road games, and he said Dec. 31 he didn’t expect to be back.
“I told you all at the beginning of the season what the deal was if I didn’t produce, if you all remember my statements,” Edwards said. “If I would have made the plays, I’d still be here. I told you if I didn’t make the plays, I wasn’t going to be here.”
He said he wasn’t bitter, though.
“We men, man,” Edwards said. “Ain’t no hostility. You sign a contract. If you produce, you keep that contract. If you don’t, you don’t. Me and Rod, we men. …
“When he told me what was up, I said, ‘I understand,’ because that was the deal between us. It was unsaid. It was unwritten. But we knew what the deal was.”
Defensive end is another position the Lions need to address in the draft. The Tampa Two defense they run relies on a strong four-man rush, and the Lions do not have an elite pass rusher.
Since Millen became team president in 2001, the Lions have drafted 18 players in the top two rounds. And since Marinelli became head coach in 2006, eight of those players have left Detroit.
Jones and Edwards joined Shaun Rogers, Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Boss Bailey, Teddy Lehman and Mike Williams.
“As I’ve said all along, we will always make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of our entire football team,” Marinelli said in the statement. “As the off-season has evolved — from our postseason roster evaluation to the combine to the free agency period — we feel we’ve made several moves to improve our team. …
“We sincerely appreciate the contributions that Kevin and Kalimba have made to our football team and we wish them the very best. We appreciate their hard work and professionalism during their time with the Lions.”