ALLEN PARK, Mich. Nate Burleson's broken leg was supposed to open the door for recent draft picks Titus Young and Ryan Broyles to establish themselves as the Detroit Lions top receivers behind Calvin Johnson.
Burleson even conceded at the time that it could leave him as the odd-man out because hes due to make 10 million over the next two seasons.
Two months later, things have changed. The Lions have a much greater reason to bring Burleson back in 2013, regardless of his salary.
For much different reasons, neither Young nor Broyles emerged the way that was hoped during the last half of this season, leaving the Lions scrambling to find some playmakers to complement Johnson.
With two games left, they're still looking for someone to fill Burleson's spot.
Young, a second-round pick in 2011 out of Boise State, turned into a major headache. He was dismissed from the team for a couple weeks when his selfish behavior and insubordination became a distraction to his coaches and teammates. Young finally was put on injured to end his season and keep him away from the club.
Broyles was showing promise before having to undergo major surgery earlier this month to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It was just over a year after Broyles, a second-round pick in 2012 out of Oklahoma, had surgery for a similar injury to his left knee.
While Burleson is expected to be ready to participate in the Lions offseason workout program, there are bigger questions about the status of Young and Broyles.
Many believe Young has played his final game as a Lion while Broyles rehabilitation likely will carry on through training camp next summer and into the season.
Welcome back, Nate?
I like to think so, Burleson said. Hopefully, Ill be back.
Burleson indicated that he is more than willing to rework his contract to help the Lions salary-cap numbers for the next couple seasons.
Still got to figure some things out, maybe go talk to management upstairs and try to figure out a way to keep me around, insure that I retire here, he said. If that takes us adjusting, the organization and myself, Im with it. I dont want to end my career anywhere else. This is my home right now.
I think theyll do what they can and Im going to do my part.
Burleson, 31, has played 10 years in the NFL, the first three with Minnesota, four with Seattle and the last three in Detroit.
He made 27 receptions for 240 yards and two touchdowns in six games this season before getting injured Oct. 22 in a Monday night loss at Chicago.
Not only does Burleson give the Lions a veteran presence on the field, but his gregarious personality makes him a popular teammate and locker-room leader.
I think Im a little different than the typical pro ballplayer, Burleson said. Im here to win a championship. I understand sacrifices have to be made. If it takes sacrifice on my part, Ill do that.
Im here to give this organization a good athlete and a good leader and hopefully bring a championship back to Michigan. Ill do whatever it takes.
With the loss of Burleson, Young and Broyles, the Lions receiving corps has been completely depleted behind Johnson, who is in position to break the NFL record for receiving yards in a season.
The Lions are now counting on newcomers such as Kris Durham, a practice-squad player for much of the season after being cut by Seattle; Mike Thomas, acquired in a trade with Jacksonville on Oct. 31; and Brian Robiskie, signed as a free agent on Oct. 24 after getting released by Jacksonville.
The trio combined for two catches for 23 yards in Sundays 38-10 loss at Arizona.
We were very fortunate last year that we didnt lose a snap to our wide receivers all season to injury, coach Jim Schwartz said. This year, it wasnt the same way. Even Calvin, whos sort of the last-man standing of that group, has battled through his own injuries. Its amazing the production hes been able to have when hes been such a marked man.
We need guys to step up and make plays on offense. Not everybody has to be Calvin, but we need to get contributions from a lot of different guys. We didnt get enough (against Arizona). We need to get first downs. We need to make big plays. If we do that, well complement Calvin well. To do that, theyre going to have to win some one-on-one (matchups).
The final two games, including Saturday night against Atlanta at Ford Field, are an opportunity for these guys to make an impression and possibly set themselves up for the near future.
But based on whats happened so far, there is no one who should take a job away from Burleson going into next season.