Step #6 of the plan to make the Detroit Lions a perennial playoff team has been modified to sign one top-value free agent and fill the rest of the roster with medium and low-cost players.
As noted in this series of articles, the Lions need to find ways to lower their payroll before the NFL draft and the free agent signing period. Based on recent moves by general manager Martin Mayhew, the Lions are in a better position to deal with the anticipated $121 million salary cap.
Mayhew cut wide receiver Titus Young, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and guard Stephen Peterman three weeks ago. Recently, the Lions GM renegotiated deals with center Dominic Raiola and wide receiver Nate Burleson to further strengthen Detroit’s financial position.
Media reports suggest that Mayhew has had at least initial discussions with Matthew Stafford about renegotiating the Lions starting quarterback’s contract. New England quarterback Tom Brady’s willingness to take less money in 2013 to help the Patriots might serve as motivation for Stafford to make a similar move.
As far as roster changes, we’ll start with the defense where the Lions could make one bold move for a high-priced free agent.
Here’s a wild idea that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will probably disregard:
Sign the Bennett Brothers!
Both Michael (defensive end) and Martellus (tight end) are free agents and have expressed interest in playing for the same NFL team. Tampa Bay’s Michael Bennett is considered the top defensive end in the free agent market. (Several Internet sports sites list Bennett ahead of soon-to-be former Lion Cliff Avril.)
Michael made approximately $2.7 million playing for Tampa Bay in 2012. The Lions could possibly sign and pay him $5-7 million this year and add brother Martellus for $3 million as a potential replacement at the tight end position.
Supposedly, the Buccaneers are not in a position to re-sign Michael Bennett and keep other highly-valued personnel. Another positive part of this deal is you’d get two players for less money than you’d probably pay Avril to come back and play for the Lions.
Despite the departure of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, the Lions could enter the 2013 season with a talented group of defensive ends that include Bennett and projected draft picks Bjoern Werner and Spencer Healy. They could also secure the services of Lawrence Jackson or Willie Young to maintain depth at the position.
Earlier this week, I was projecting that the Lions must sign one of the following free agents to play with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley:
- Sammie Lee Hill
- Corey Williams
Yesterday it was reported that Detroit is talking to former Philadelphia Eagle Mike Patterson. If Patterson does sign with the Lions, it eliminates the need for re-signing Hill, or Williams. Ogendi Nwagbuo is currently under contract and he will probably be the fourth defensive tackle.
Here is another area where the Lions may want to bring in some personnel to replace free agent starters DeAndre Levy or Justin Durant.
Outside linebackers Anthony Spencer and Paul Kruger are outside of the Lions’ price range, but would Mayhew and Schwartz consider free agents Philip Wheeler, Daryl Smith or Connor Barwin?
Wheeler is the highest-ranked free agent outside linebacker after Spencer and Kruger. He had a strong year for the Oakland Raiders in 2012. Smith also played well as an outside linebacker for Jacksonville last season. Connor Barwin had an off-year for the Houston Texans, but he’s still young and would have a shot at matching his 11.5 sacks in 2011 if he is signed by the Lions.
Stephen Tulloch is back to play middle linebacker and only Ashlee Palmer has starting experience among the reserves. Detroit would benefit if Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead showed dramatic improvement in 2013. If the Lions opt to use their second round pick in the 2013 NFL draft on a linebacker, they should be able to select Kansas State’s Arthur Brown.
Why would the Lions use their 1st draft choice in the 2013 NFL draft to select Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner? Consider what Detroit has on the roster today.
Chris Houston was the Lions’ best cornerback, but he’s rated No. 4 among the free agent corners. My concern is Houston was beatable on deep patterns in the last quarter of the 2012 season. Do you give him a contract and hope one of the youngsters develops into an NFL-worthy cornerback?
If general manager Martin Mayhew is serious about acquiring a game-breaker, he should go after free agent cornerback Sean Smith. The Dolphins seem to be at an impasse in re-signing their best cornerback. The problem is getting Smith may require dolling out a $7 million salary for 2013.
The other two cornerbacks that are rated ahead of Houston are Aqib Talib (last team - New England) and Brent Grimes (Atlanta). The Patriots will probably re-sign Talib, because they got burned without him in the AFC championship game against the Ravens. Grimes might be a health risk after suffering an Achilles tendon injury last September.
Detroit has depth at cornerback, but also a glaring lack of experience. It is true that Ron Bartell has started for Oakland and St. Louis at cornerback, but he joined the Lions late in 2012 and only started one game. Bill Bentley and Jonte Green will be second-year players in 2013, though Bentley missed most of this season due to an injury.
The phrase “open competition” truly applies to the safety positions in 2013. The draft article (Step #5) projected the Lions will select Bacarri Rambo in the 2nd round and Jordan Kovacs in the 7th round. I also stipulated that Detroit should not re-sign Louis Delmas due to injury issues.
If the Lions are looking for a ball hawk, they should go after free agent Jarius Byrd. He had five interceptions last season and he’s not afraid to hit people as he tallied 76 tackles and forced four fumbles. The problem with Byrd is Buffalo will undoubtedly slap the “franchise” tag on him and pay him somewhere around $6.8 million to play for the Bills in 2013.
There are other free agent candidates, but they have battled injuries just like Delmas. Maybe the Lions should re-sign Delmas or consider going after converted cornerback Glover Quin who had a good season with the Houston Texans.
Dominic Raiola re-signed with the Lions at the minimum pay for an experienced veteran. His days as the Lions starting center are numbered and it would not surprise me if Martin Mayhew drafted a center this year. The draft article projected the Lions would draft a true center in Notre Dame’s Braxston Cook in the 5th round.
If Detroit opts to pursue a free agent center, Schwartz and Mayhew should consider former Tennessee Titan Fernando Velasco.
The only guaranteed starter is Rob Sims after Mayhew cut Stephen Peterman. The Lions may be banking on reserves Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin to step up and compete for the starting right guard position.
If Detroit uses their 1st pick in the NFL draft on a guard, it will probably be Chance Warmack of Alabama. His teammate, Barrett Jones, might be the Lions 2nd round pick if Mayhew and Schwartz start their 2013 NFL draft with a cornerback or defensive end.
If the Lions still have cap space, they could pursue guards like Buffalo’s Andy Levitre, San Deigo’s Louis Vasquez or the Giants’ Kevin Boothe. Boothe can also play center.
Will Jeff Backus play or retire in 2013? Has Gosder Cherilus’ battle with injuries slowed him down? Is Riley Reiff ready to be a starter this fall?
The answers to these questions are definitely influencing the Lions’ draft and free agent strategies. Thankfully, the free agent marketplace and draft are deep in talented tackles.
Texas A&M’s Luke Joekel will probably be off the board when the Lions make their selection with the No. 5 pick, but there is a possibility that Eric Fisher of Central Michigan could be available. It just seems unlikely that Detroit would select an offensive tackle with their 1st pick for the second year in a row. Reiff was their No. 1 pick in 2012.
Denver will find a way to re-sign Ryan Clady, who is the best free agent offensive tackle. The Lions may want to look at Sebastian Vollmer (last team – New England), Andre Smith (Cincinnati) or Phil Loadholt (Minnesota).
You either like or dislike Brandon Pettigrew as the starting tight end. He has made some critical catches in tight situations and also dropped more than his fair share of catchable passes.
Earlier in this article I suggested signing former Giant and Cowboy Martellus Bennett. Bennett is not comparable to Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates or Rob Gronkowski, but he is a workable alternative to Pettigrew.
The downside is it would cost Detroit more to sign Bennett and release Pettigrew. If signing the Bennett brothers is one of your goals, then parting with an additional $2-4 million may turn into a sound investment.
Matthew Stafford is in talks to extend his contract with the Lions. Shaun Hill is the best backup QB in the league. Kellen Moore is the 3rd quarterback until someone pushes him out of that spot.
Here is another opportunity for the Lions to make a splash in free agent signings. Former Miami Dolphin Reggie Bush would be a great complimentary back if paired with Mikel Leshoure.
When Detroit selected Leshoure in 2011, I expected him to be used as their shortage-yardage running back. The Lions desperately needed a back who could get a first down in a third-and-two situation.
Bush is a good match with the Lions offense, because he caught plenty of passes in New Orleans and ran the ball between the tackles in Miami. Apparently, the Lions would have to compete with the Atlanta Falcons to sign Bush.
Every wide receiver was dinged up last year, but Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson will be back as starters. Ryan Broyles looked good until his season was cut short by an injury. Wide receiver is one position where I think Detroit can plug in a variety of players as reserves.
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