As characterized by an article appearing on the Lions’ official website (and of course that means nothing at all . . . other than it appears on the sliver of the Internet owned and operated by the Detroit Lions), Abdullah is on the roster bubble as training camp approaches.
The top of the depth chart will consist of veteran LeGarrette Blount, rookie second-rounder Kerryon Johnson, and third-down-specialist-plus Theo Riddick. Abdullah will need to win the fourth roster spot (or leapfrog one of the other three) in order to remain.
That makes special teams a key for Abdullah, since any running back buried that deep will need to be able to do other things. And, as noted in the article, Abdullah spent time as the kick returner during offseason workouts.
Of course, that could be part of an effort to suggest to the rest of the league that Abdullah will make the cut from 90 to 53, and that if another team (like the Cardinals or the Bills, who may at some point have a need) is interested, they’ll need to make a trade, not file a waivers claim. (Abdullah is under contract through 2018, at a salary this year of $876,000.)
However it plays out, it’s clear that the Lions have shifted away sharply from the idea that Abdullah will be moving the chains on a regular basis.
“When we get to the physical part of it, obviously teams that have been going against us the last couple of years, it’s a little bit different tackling LeGarrette than it was maybe tackling Ameer in the hole,” running backs coach David Walker has said, as quoted in the article at DetroitLions.com. “He’ll have a chance to be a guy who’ll give us a physical presence in the backfield that maybe we didn’t have as consistently as we’d like last season.”
Abdullah has had three seasons of chances to become that guy. The signing of Blount and the drafting of Johnson underscores the fact that Abdullah hasn’t gotten it done. The only question left is whether he leaves the team before or after the final year of his rookie contract, and whether if he goes before Week One it’s by trade or a release.