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When Giants play Lions, they will be facing five ex-teammates

All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison will face his

All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison will face his former team Sunday. Harrison was signed by the Giants as a free agent in 2016 and then traded to the Detroit Lions just over a year ago. Credit: AP/Jeffrey Phelps

Most NFL rosters are made up of NFL rejects. Just about every team is constructed mainly from the thrown-away pieces of the other 31, whether it be players added in free agency or waivers or acquired via trade. It’s more difficult to find a player who spends his whole career with one team than it is to find a dozen who have bounced around from team to team, city to city, uniform to uniform.

Usually the players with whom a team parts ways are scattered about the league like grass seed. But occasionally, they seem to land in clumps.

The Giants will be facing a clump of their former players on Sunday.

The Lions have five players on their active roster who have spent time with an NY on their helmet, including two former Giants draft picks and one big-ticket — well, big-everything in the case of Damon Harrison! — free agent signing.

Besides Harrison, the All-Pro defensive tackle who was signed by the Giants as a free agent in 2016 and then traded to Detroit just over a year ago, the Lions also have linebackers Devon Kennard and Romeo Okwara who were both starters for the Giants defense. Tight end Logan Thomas was on the Giants’ practice squad before he wound up with the Lions. And former Giants running back Paul Perkins, who started in the team’s most recent playoff game but was waived earlier this season, was claimed by the Lions. He had been on their practice squad but was promoted to the active roster this week when starter Kerryon Johnson was placed on injured reserve.

The Giants have no hard feelings. Why would they? They’re the ones that made the decisions to say goodbye to the players.

“If a guy leaves our building, we want him to go have success somewhere else,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “The Lions are very fortunate. They have some ex-Giants that are really good football players. I think that happens all around the league. It just so happens we’re playing the Lions this week.”

Its unlikely the players are as grudge-free.

The four who actually played for the Giants — Harrison, Kennard, Okwara and Perkins — were all dismissed by the current regime. Kennard is the only one who never got a chance to make the team; he wanted to come back but left as a free agent the first offseason that Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman were running things. Okwara was cut at the end of 2018’s training camp and claimed by the Lions.

“Those guys have been great,” said Lions head coach Matt Patricia (who was a candidate and interviewed for the Giants head coach vacancy that eventually was filled by Shurmur). “With Devon coming here my first year and getting a chance to look at him heading into the free agency, he was someone I thought was very multiple, a very flexible type of player. Could play on the edge, could play back in behind the line of scrimmage, could go inside if he had to down the defensive line position. Just someone that I knew had a certain skillset that we would be able to try to use in some of our packages.”

Kennard had 9.5 sacks in four years with the Giants and has 10 so far in less than a year and a half with the Lions.

The Lions first noticed Okwara in the joint practices that the two teams held last summer.

“We saw him a little bit in some of the practices that we had,” Patricia said. “Extremely hard work ethic. He’s long, he’s got a great burst off the ball. He’s a guy that just comes into work every single day the same. He wants to get better, wants to improve.

“Those guys have been great since we got them.”

The Giants-Lions transaction wire isn’t a one-way road. Giants receiver Golden Tate spent five seasons in Detroit. He was in discussions with the team about signing an extension at this point last season when he was traded to the Eagles. He signed with the Giants as a free agent in the offseason.

“I’m going to try to keep my emotions where they’ve always been,” Tate said. “I don’t want to be too high, I don’t want to be too low. It’s going to be good to see those guys, but I’m there to do a job.”

A week ago the Giants faced the Cardinals and were on the opposite side of this phenomenon. They had five players who had spent time in their careers in Arizona. They have six this week with the addition of Deone Bucannon. Clumps.

Tate, who has played for four teams in his career, has some experience going against a former employer. While with the Lions he faced his initial team, the Seahawks, three times, including once in a playoff game. In a few weeks, he and the Giants will face another of his former teams, the Eagles. In fact, they’ll do it twice.

So it was not surprising that Tate was able to deliver the verbal credo of all players who have been disposed of by one team and get a chance to show that franchise what they gave up on and what they are missing.

“I don’t want to make this about me,” he said, “I just want to go back there and win any way possible.”

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