Lions Part Ways With Veteran TE, Bring Back Familiar LB on Practice Squad

Dan Campbell Anthony Firkser

Getty Head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions waived tight end Anthony Firkser on January 4.

The Detroit Lions continue to make tweaks to their roster ahead of the Week 18 season finale against the Minnesota Vikings. On January 4, the Lions waived tight end Anthony Firkser.

By departing with Firkser, the Lions have created two open spots on their active roster. Although nothing is official yet, two returning defensive players could fill those openings.

In addition to waiving Firkser, the Lions signed linebacker Raymond Johnson to the practice squad on January 4.

Lions Make Room for C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Alim McNeill With Anthony Firkser Release

The Lions also released veteran defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs on January 2. Detroit has yet to fill that roster spot, and by waiving Firkser, the Lions now have two openings on the active roster.

That clears a path for both defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and defensive tackle Alim McNeill to return from injured reserve in Week 18.

Gardner-Johnson has been teasing his return for weeks. He hasn’t played since Week 2 when he tore a pectoral muscle.

McNeill has been on injured reserve the past four weeks with a knee ailment.

“It’s going to be good to get [McNeill] back,” Campbell said on January 3. “I know he’s looking forward to it just like we are. So he’s excited, and he’ll get some work again here for us. And yeah, he’s excited, and so I think it’ll be good.”

Getting back McNeill made Buggs, who has since signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, expendable. Veteran defensive tackle Tyson Alualu is also a candidate to be a practice squad elevation in Week 18 to help replace Buggs.

Gardner-Johnson’s return to the lineup is a little more complicated. Young defensive backs Ifeatu Melifonwu and Kindle Vildor have been playing really well the past few weeks. Rookie nickel back Brian Branch has also continued his stellar first NFL season.

But finding playing time for Gardner-Johnson is still a challenge Campbell would love to have.

“Anytime you feel like you’re getting some of your good football players back, it’s exciting,” Campbell told reporters. “If we can get him back this week, that’s a good football player.

“You open up possibilities. You get another playmaker in the game, so it is. It’s exciting.”

Lions Lose TE Depth With Firkser Release

While the potential returns of McNeill and Gardner-Johnson is exciting, waiving Firkser isn’t all good news.

Without Firkser, the Lions are left to two healthy tight ends on the active roster — rookie Sam LaPorta and James Mitchell.

Detroit’s third tight end, Brock Wright, has missed the past two games because of a hip injury. He also hasn’t practiced ahead of Week 18.

The last two weeks, Firkser filled in for Wright as the team’s third tight end. Firkser played just 2 offensive snaps, but he lined up for 22 special teams snaps combined in Weeks 16 and 17.

In six NFL seasons, Firkser has posted 115 receptions for 1,207 yards and 5 touchdowns. He didn’t have a touch on offense for the Lions this season.

As for Johnson, he spent more than three months on the Lions practice squad at the beginning of the season until Detroit released him on December 5. He has not dressed for a game this season.

Johnson last appeared in an NFL regular season game for the New York Giants in 2021. He has 4 combined tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 sacks in 15 career games.

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