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Detroit Lions cut Tracy Walker, create $5.5 million in cap space: 'The future is bright'

The late-season emergence of one young safety has made the presence of another veteran one expendable.

The Detroit Lions intend to cut safety Tracy Walker in a move that would free up about $5.5 million in salary cap space, a source confirmed to the Free Press on Tuesday.

Walker posted on Instagram a farewell message to Lions fans, saying, in part: "Detroit I want to thank you for welcoming me in as rookie and accepting me as family."

Walker. a third-round pick out of Louisiana in 2018, was a key contributor in the Lions' secondary for most of his first four seasons in Detroit. He signed a three-year extension in the spring of 2022, before the start of free agency, but tore his Achilles tendon in the third game of the year and returned in a backup role last season.

Walker opened 2023 as the fourth safety in the Lions' secondary, behind starters Kerby Joseph and C.J. Gardner-Johnson and rookie slot cornerback Brian Branch.

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He started five games in September and October after Gardner-Johnson tore his pectoral muscle in a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but lost his starting job to Ifeatu Melifonwu in the second half of the year.

Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker III (21) is being introduced before the Green Bay Packers game at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.
Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker III (21) is being introduced before the Green Bay Packers game at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.

Melifonwu is younger (24) and cheaper ($1.192 million in 2024) than the 29-year-old Walker, who carried a $7.95 million base salary for 2024, and has proven to be a better playmaker in more limited action.

Melifonwu, who is entering the final season of his rookie deal, had two interceptions, three sacks and a forced fumble in six regular-season starts for the Lions last year. Walker has three interceptions, four sacks and two forced fumbles in his six-year career.

With Gardner-Johnson set to become a restricted free agent March 13, the Lions likely will enter next season with Joseph and Melifonwu in starting safety roles and Branch at slot corner. Starting cornerback Kindle Vildor and backup defensive back Will Harris also are among the Lions' 20 total unrestricted free agents.

The Lions will carry a dead cap charge of about $7.3 million for Walker in 2024, but entered the week a projected $48 million below next year's projected salary cap.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions cut Tracy Walker, free up $5.5 million in cap space