Tuesday brought news that former Rutgers fullback Michael Burton is now also a former member of the Detroit Lions. This seemed likely as during their postseason push, Detroit’s strategy to jump start a weak running game was to completely abandon it for long stretches. The Long Valley, NJ native saw his playing time decrease, not carrying the ball once or even making a reception in 2016. The beneficiary was Zach Zenner, forcing Burton exclusively into goal-line sets on the offensive side (played less than 10 percent of snaps). Burton continued on special teams however, still playing in 15 games. As a rookie in 2015, he had 4 carries and six receptions including a touchdown against the Saints on Monday Night Football.
Detroit had more to look at in the mirror than any club in the NFL, even the Falcons this offseason. The Lions backed into the playoffs, after a team that needed to win only one of their final three regular season contests to clinch the NFC North title failed to do so. An embarrassing twenty point wild card round defeat in Seattle capped it off. After the period of self reflection to fill the hybrid role, the Lions signed former division rival Matt Asiata, who had played for the Minnesota Vikings.
So what’s next?
- New York Giants. Some in the media have speculated that the local would be a good fit. It does seem to be an excellent match, but before teams are able to agree to new terms with Burton he will need to clear waivers. Since the Giants made the playoffs in 2016 they are 23rd on the wire, he might not last that long. The G-men failed to address their biggest weakness on the offensive line this offseason, so coming up with creative ways to give Eli Manning more time could include Burton. Adding one of Pro Football Focus’s top blocking backs can’t hurt. They should have the cap room as well which may be a reason others hold back.
- New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, etc. This category is any team that simply needs to add talent anywhere they can find it, most of these are high on the wire also. Both the Jets and the Niners have quarterback battles where once young player steps in, it would behoove them to be able to mix up plays/ formations as much as possible to protect their QBs. Someone like Burton fits the bill. The Niners likely won’t add him as a second fullback behind Kyle Juszczyk, but you never know. If Juszczyk gets injured, I’m sure Michael’s phone will be ringing.
- Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid is a master of utilizing talent and with either a limited quarterback, or a rookie (Pat Mahomes), he will be mixing it up more than ever this season as the K.C. is in win now mode. The Kansas City media noted how much the Chiefs needed a fullback in a weak draft class, they may have hit the jackpot after not drafting one.
- New England Patriots. This head coach loves Rutgers players, especially underrecruited ones. They also are masters at utilizing players with versatility and filling out their roster with as many different skillsets as possible.
- Detroit Lions after a pay cut. In the NFL this happens a lot since contracts are not guaranteed that someone like Burton who signed a 4 year, $2.46 million deal is cut. He knows their playbook and if no better offer comes along, perhaps he signs back with the motor city. A one year deal, maybe even for the same amount he was scheduled to make anyway is possible.
- Philadelphia Eagles. No, they don’t currently have a fullback on their roster. Yes, they have LeGarrette Blount who weighs 250 himself. Could a power running game be in the cards to take pressure of Carson Wentz to avoid a sophomore slump?
Burton will catch on somewhere, let’s hope it’s a good situation for him to showcase his abilities and toughness.