After 17 memorable seasons, the Don Muhlbach era is over in Detroit.
The Detroit Lions announced they have released Muhlbach, their longtime long snapper, on Wednesday.
“Don Muhlbach will go down as one of the all-time Detroit Lions greats,” team owner Shelia Ford Hamp said in a released statement announcing the move. “… Only 36 players in the history of the National Football League have played in more games than Don, and we are proud to call him a Lion for life.
Muhlbach, who celebrated his 40th birthday Tuesday, had been the Lions’ long snapper since signing with the team midway through the 2004 season. He made Pro Bowls in 2012 and 2018, and is tied for 37th in NFL history with 260 games played.
“Look, I got the utmost respect for Don,” said head coach Dan Campbell, a former teammate of Muhlbach’s in Detroit. “He was a pro. He was an even better person. He meant a lot to this organization. He always represented it well. He’s an outstanding teammate who’s always locked in. A man of his word. So I hate it, man. This is the hardest time, especially a player like him.”
Muhlbach had played on a series of one-year, minimum-salary-benefit deals since 2013. The Lions made the postseason three times during his tenure in Detroit, but never won a playoff game.
Last December, Muhlbach said he hoped to play at least one more year to help the Lions navigate their pending regime change.
“I mean, I’ve done it before, so maybe I could help with it,” Muhlbach said at the time. “I don’t know. I do feel like I want to get this thing going in the right direction before they get rid of me, so I don’t know.”
Scott Daly is the only long snapper on the Lions’ current roster, though Campbell stopped short of saying he would man the position this fall.
Daly played for the New York Guardians of the XFL after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
Asked what separated the two on the field, Campbell said, “I really think just the best way to put it, it was time.”
“It’s time,” Campbell said. “And look, I told those guys out there, as weird as this may sound, this doesn’t mean that he was beaten out. Daly’s here, he’s still got to compete for a job. And he knows that, as does everybody else on this roster. But it just, it was time. And like I say, shoot, man, I wish him the best, him and his family. He’s a stud and I hate that we had to be the ones to do this.”
The Lions have overhauled their entire kicking game since the start of the 2019 season.
Jack Fox replaced Sam Martin as punter last year, and the Lions let kicker Matt Prater go this offseason.
Last year, there was sentiment to keep long snapper Steven Wirtel out of training camp, but the team, in what turned out to be Matt Patricia’s final season as head coach, was reluctant to go young at long snapper and punter.
Wirtel declined to re-sign with the Lions in the offseason, opting instead for an offer with guaranteed money from the Los Angeles Rams.
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Campbell said he is not sure if Muhlbach intends to try and play an 18th NFL season.
“Of course it was hard but … he handled it like a pro,” Campbell said.” And he appreciated that we talked to him, we brought him up there. We sat with him for a while, cause we wanted this to be the best way that we could, or at least make it as good as you could under the circumstances. We certainly didn’t want it to come out and be something that he didn’t want, but there’s no easy way around this, unfortunately.
“Of course he was disappointed. It’s hard. This is all he’s known. He’s been a Detroit Lion for a long time and it’s really part of him, so that’s not easy. That’s not easy to watch. I know it hurt. But I know he wanted to talk to his wife and his family and go from there.”