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Lions Free Agency Primer

The NFL labor issues are entering the home stretch and it appears free agency is on the horizon, maybe as soon as Friday.  The Lions are in better position than they have been in recent memory, but they do have work that needs to be done.  Let’s look at the positions of need for the Lions as well as potential targets for them when free agency opens.  One point to remember, the rosters are up to 90 players due to the lockout, so there will be a lot of activity at the lower ends of the rosters.

Quarterback:The Lions are set with Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, the only variable is Drew Stanton, who is an unrestricted free agent.  Stanton has said he would like to return to Detroit, but in a quarterback needy offseason there may be a team that wants to roll the dice on him after his play late last season.  If Stanton goes elsewhere, the Lions have Zac Robinson on the roster but they could look at other young players.

  • Drew Stanton – Lions would prefer to have him back as he knows the offense and proved his ability to keep the team afloat in case of injury.
  • Pat Devlin – Devlin is an undrafted rookie free agent who could be attractive to the Lions as a developmental quarterback.

Running Backs:Again the Lions are set at running back at the top of the depth chart but could add depth or camp competition.  The position of most interest in the backfield will be fullback, even thought the Lions like Jerome Felton’s versatility.  Felton is a good jack of all trades, but he isn’t a punishing blocker and he’s been unreliable as a runner and a receiver.  If a proven versatile fullback is available the Lions could take a look, or bring in a young guy to push Felton.

Receivers: The Lions have four out of five receiver positions spoken for and all three tight end positions are filled.  That leaves the fourth receiver slot open for the Lions and they have two candidates on the roster for that position, Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams.  Johnson has a huge cap number, so he may be out of the running if he doesn’t renegotiate before camp.

  • Devin Aromashadu – Aromashasu is a potential target for the Lions because of his abilty to contribute as a receiver and on special teams.  He’s a bigger receiver that has some polish in his route running and he earned his keep on special teams for several years before getting the opportunity to contribute on offense.
  • Chansi Stuckey – Stuckey is a similar player to Aromashadu, plays special teams and has experience working out of the slot in multiple receiver sets.

Offensive Line:The Lions have their five starters, but there are health concerns surrounding 40% of those starters, Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus.  The Lions were planning on building depth on the offensive line in free agency, especially on the interior, but depending on what they find out about Backus and Cherilus they may have to add starting caliber players.

  • Doug Free – Free is the cream of the lineman crop and will demand a sizeable contract as a 27 year old left tackle.  The only reason the Lions could pursue Free is if Backus will miss considerable time this season and decide to move on with a younger option.  Backus is in the last year of his deal, so if he could miss a lot of time, the Lions may be better served investing in a young replacement.
  • Jake Kirkpatrick – Kirkpatrick is an undrafted rookie free agent from TCU and he is an interesting backup center prospect.  Raiola isn’t getting younger, and Kirkpatrick is a solid young center that could be groomed to take over in a year or two.
  • Kris O’Dowd –  Same situation as Kirkpatrick.
  • Dylan Gandy – Gandy is an unrestricted free agent that the Lions may want to resign.  He’s played guard and center for the Lions during the Schwartz regime and he’s still young enough to get a few solid years from.

Defensive Line: The Lions are obviously set here, they have one unrestricted free agent that they would like back, Turk McBride, but other than that there shouldn’t be much happening.

  • Turk McBride – McBride played for Gunther Cunningham in Kansas City and was a welcome addition to the Lions in 2009.  He had a huge season as a rotational defensive end and spot starter in 2010.  He’s more attractive to the Lions than most other teams, so he should resign.
  • Vernon Gholston – Gholston is the definition of draft bust as the sixth overall pick and zero career sacks will attest.  However, he’s only 25 and was miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker in New York.  Gholston has ridiculous athletic ability and perhaps the Lions give him a chance to start over at defensive end.

Linebacker:  The Lions have one definite starter in DeAndre Levy, they have two players expected to compete for a starting position in Ashlee Palmer and Bobby Carpenter (if he resigns) and they have two backup linebacker slots filled by rookie Doug Hogue and the loser of the Palmer/Carpenter battle.  The Lions will be active in the linebacker market.

  • Justin Durant – There have been several reports that Durant is atop the Lions linebacker wishlist.  He’s young, athletic, productive but injury prone.  He would play one of the outside slots, which would two fill needs, finding a starting OLB and keeping DeAndre Levy in the middle.
  • Stephen Tulloch – Tulloch could be a possibility but he has price tag and position working against him.  Tulloch plays MLB where the Lions would like to keep Levy, if Tulloch’s price is right he may be too good of a player to pass up.  He may also be able to play outside linebacker, but his ball skills and big play ability are lacking.
  • Rocky McIntosh – McIntosh languished in Washington as a 4-3 OLB playing ILB in a 3-4 last season.  McIntosh fits the Lions’ defense and he’s a young veteran player, which fits the Lions’ preference in free agency.
  • Thomas Howard – Howard is another young and productive outside linebacker that could be in play for the Lions.  He’s fallen out of favor in Oakland, which isn’t as bad a sign as it first may seem.
  • Stephen Nicholas – All indication are that Nicholas will resign with the Falcons, but he’s another young long term solution to the Lions OLB need.
  • James Anderson – Anderson had a career year for the Panthers last season, but he was a career special teamer for three years before.  He doesn’t have much of a track record and he is leaning towards resigning with the Panthers, but he could be an option if he hits the market.
  • Quincy Black – Black is an interesting option for the Lions’ OLB needs.  He’s young, he’s fast and he has a lot of experience in coverage since the linebackers don’t blitz much in the Tampa 2.  He’s a little undersized, but he’s very active and the Bucs have Barrett Ruud to try to resign as well.
  • Keith Bulluck – Bulluck fits just about all of the Lions criteria except youth.  Bulluck would be a one or two year patch, rather than a long term building block.  He also is coming off an injury plagued down year, which makes him more of a fallback plan in my mind.
  • Leroy Hill – Hill is an interesting possibility depending on a few mitigating circumstances.  Hill was one of the best linebackers in the league two years ago, he was designated Seattle’s franchise player and he was on the verge of stardom.  He had several run ins with the law and suffered a major injury as well.  Hill has all the talent in the world and if his legal and injury issues check out, he could be a talented, young and cheap signing.

Defensive Backs:Every Lions fan knows this is a position of need as well as linebacker, and the Lions have a lot of good options for upgrading.  First things first, the Lions are set at both starting safety positions with Louis Delmas and Erik Coleman.  Amari Spievey will backup both positions and unrestricted free agent John Wendling is likely to return.  At cornerback, the Lions have tons of young talent the only problem is they are almost all unproven.  The Lions resigned Nathan Vasher before the lockout and they have Alphonso Smith, Prince Miller, Aaron Berry and Jack Williams under contract.  Chris Houston was the Lions’ most consistent corner, but he will be a free agent.

  • Chris Houston – The Lions chose not to lock him up long term when they had teh chance because they have serious concerns with paying premium money for a cornerback that lacks ball skills.  Houston can be a great number two corner, but he’s not a premier guy.  If he wants big money, he’ll end up elsewhere.
  • Johnathan Joseph – Nnamdi Asomugha is getting all the attention right now, but Joseph is the more sought after player.  He’s almost as talented and he’ll cost far less than the $18 million per season Asomugha is expected to demand.  Joseph is a young building block player which makes him attractive to the Lions, but if they have to break the bank he won’t be wearing the Honolulu Blue.
  • Chris Carr – I would bet Carr is very high on the Lions’ radar going into free agency.  He’s familiar with the defense and some of the coaches and he won’t cost top dollar.  He’s a young player with special teams versatility and a nose for the football.  He could start immediately.
  • Antonio Cromartie – Cromartie was almost a Lion last season, but the Jets offered more in a trade.  Cromartie fits what the Lions are looking for except he’s made it very clear he’s going to go to the highest bidder.  I guess that’s a given when you have 10+ kids under 5 years of age, lots of mouths to feed.  Unless Cromartie’s price takes a nosedive, he probably isn’t high on the Lions’ list.
  • Josh Wilson – Wilson’s been somewhat of a journeyman in is young career playing on two teams and being ushered onto his third.  The Ravens have a glut of cornerbacks and they drafted another in the first round, so Wilson will most likely be a player the Lions have interest in.  The Ravens play a lot of zone defense and Wilson fit their scheme last season.
  • Richard Marshall – Marshall is a decent young corner who has had some rough seasons as Carolina’s defense struggled.  He could be a value as another young player with promise and a lower price tag.
  • Eric Wright – Wright is an extremely talented player that just hasn’t been able to put it together.  He’s been on a team heavily immersed in turmoil for the last few years, so maybe a change of scenery helps him rebound.
  • Fabian Washington – Another Ravens’ corner makes the list.  He has all the talent you look for in a defensive back, and all the injury issues you hope to avoid.

Overall:The Lions don’t have a ton of cap space, so they won’t be major players on the upper tier free agents.  Look for the Lions to add several young players at reasonable price tags and let them compete for positions.  The Lions have had success with some players that just needed a change of scenery, so I expect them to sign several mid level guys and then hit the undrafted rookie free agent market pretty hard as well.  This is a team building for the long haul, not a short term playoff run.  The Lions will be aggressive but responsible in free agency and don’t forget how much Mayhew has done in the trade market.  This will be an interesting week to say the least.


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