I’ll always have a soft spot for Zack Follett. He’s a piece of TLiW history; Follett was the second-ever subject of Meet the Cubs:
In researching this 6'-1", 238-pound spark plug, it quickly became obvious: Zack Follett is going to be the next inductee into the Lions Fan Hall of Fame. Players like David Kircus, Scotty Anderson, Casey Fitzsimmons, David "Blue" Adams, Greg Blue, and Buster Davis have been drafted late (or signed as a UFA) by the Lions, made a big play or two in training camp or preseason, and become cult heroes--often, with fans insisting that these practice squadders and/or bench riders would be immediate upgrades over the current starters, if only they were given the opportunity. Zack Follett perfectly fits this profile; I have no doubt we'll be seeing Follett jerseys in the stands sooner rather than later.
Oh man. I had no idea how true that would be, did I? Unfortunately, there was something else in that breakdown that proved to be prescient:
As a junior, he was second-team All-Pac 10, again with 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks, plus 64 total tackles. This, despite missing part of one game and all of two more with a neck stinger--thanks to an aggravation of a bulging neck disc discovered in high school . . .
. . . In most of my research, the first thing that comes up is amazement that this kid was available in the seventh round. Apparently the neck stinger that limited him in 2007 scared enough LB-hungry teams to engender a big fall—still, that is the kind of risk you want to take with a seventh-round pick.
Like Lydon Murtha, Willie Young, and Johnny Culbreath after him, the Lions consistently use late-round picks on players with NFL talent with question marks, and Zack Follett is no exception. In some cases, “medical flags” are overblown: Adrian Peterson’s injury history scared a lot of teams, and despite a punishing running style, health hasn’t been an issue. In Follett’s case, though, there’s something about his body, or the way he plays the game, or the combination thereof, that literally breaks his neck. It’s why he wasn’t drafted in the third or fourth round, and it’s why he’s not a Lion anymore.
Or is it? Lions President Tom Lewand confirmed Follett’s release in a statement, but claimed he was “waived healthy,” and that the signings of Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, and Bobby Carpenter made Follett expendable. This directly contradicts Follett’s Tweet that “Schwartz Mayhew Lewand didn’t want to risk a life threatening injury after seeing my pain.”
Perhaps the Lions wanted to break it to Follett gently; let him feel as though injury, and not performance, was the reason they decided he couldn’t hack it. But, if that were the case, why would Schwartz say Follett had an “outstanding practice” on Monday? Maybe the Lions were just trying to save a few bucks; being placed on the “waived/injured” list means the player is due an injury settlement. Since Ndamukong Suh makes more in a single game check than Follett would have all year, that doesn’t sound right either.
I think it’s a matter of semantics. Follett said he “couldn’t compete” in tackling drills due to the pain in his neck. Perhaps that’s the tipping point: the Lions would rather have Bobby Carpenter as he currently is, than Zack Follett as he currently is. Follett’s not injured—he’s been medically cleared to play—but his current physical condition prevents him from playing at a high level. For right now, Zack Follett can’t play for the Lions, and it remains to be seen if he’ll ever play anywhere else.
Zack Follett’s just one of hundreds of stories like his we’ll hear this year. Camp rosters have swollen to twice the size of gameday rosters. Nearly a thousand players who can call themselves “a member of [NFL team]” right now won’t even land on a practice squad. Yet, this one has a special sadness; Follett played the game with love, heart, and abandon—and few players have been as open a book to fans. I hope more players choose to live as full-throttle a life as Zack Follett, and I hope their NFL careers have a happier ending.
However, Zack Follett’s life is anything but over; it’s just beginning! He was so beloved partially because of his-off field creativity, energy, and passion—I’m certainly not going to stop following him on Twitter, or watching his videos, or keeping tabs on what he’s up to just because he isn’t wearing a Lions uniform on autumn Sundays. He’s no longer a Detroit Lion, but he’s the same man today that he was yesterday. For once, as fans, let’s remember that.