02/18/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

The Improbable Rise of Don Carey

Back in 2012, Don Carey was one of the many on the Lions roster competing at cornerback.

He played both cornerback and safety in college but stuck mostly to safety in the NFL. Even though there were no expectations he would start, it quickly became clear that Carey's cornerback experiment wasn't going to work out. The Lions waived him that preseason.

A mere year and a half later, the Lions cut starting safety Louis Delmas for salary cap reasons. It might be just for a few off-season months, hell it might be for a few days as Detroit says it wants to bring Delmas back at a reduced rate, but right now Don Juan Carey III (seriously) is the Detroit Lions' starting safety, and it's not out of the question that he's stays there for a while.

The Lions also cut Nate Burleson on Thursday, leaving Kris Durham as their No. 2 receiver. They've needed a cornerback for decades and could probably use some help at linebacker.

You can only address so many needs at once. What happens if the Lions take Mike Evans at No. 10 overall and a linebacker or corner in the second round? What happens if the Lions miss out on Jarius Byrd and T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner, the best free agent safeties on the market? Detroit did give Carey a three-year extension a month ago.

The contract was likely a reward for his special teams and an offer to be a backup in multiple positions in the secondary, but Martin Mayhew isn't stupid. He played out the worst-case scenario before he let Delmas go. He thought about what would happen if Delmas signed with a another team, the Lions addressed other needs in the draft and struck out at safety in free agency. There's at least one scenario in Mayhew's mind where Don Carey starts at safety in the first game of the Lions' 2014 season. Mayhew accepted the possibility. He did so warily, but he did it.

Carey went to Norfolk State. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Browns but was cut before he could even play in a preseason game. The Jaguars signed him, used him for a season -- he started 10 games -- then dumped him. The Lions signed him, dumped him, then re-signed him. He's gone from never-going-to-get-an-opportunity to solid contributor on an NFL team in three and a half years.

Maybe that one scenario in which he starts is the one that's going to happen. The odds can't be higher for that than what he's already overcome.

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