Picking 1 Free Agent to Fill Each of the Detroit Lions' Holes
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Over the years free agency has been a time of giddy anticipation with little to no payoff for fans of the Lions. Big-splash signings were few and far between, and when notable players were signed they failed to live up to expectations.
Maybe that's not fair to general manager Martin Mayhew. While it's true he sat idle last season during free agency, he's made significant moves and several of them have paid big dividends.
He signed Phillip Buchanan and Grady Jackson in 2009, Kyle Vanden Bosch in 2010 and Eric Wright in 2011. While none of those players could be categorized as elite, they were big-named signings that got the fans excited and—on paper—improved the Lions' roster.
Unfortunately not all of those pickups worked out. Buchanan and Jackson were stiffs who were let go the following year. On the other hand KVB and Wright played major roles in the Lions' making the playoffs in 2011.
A 50 percent success rate isn't so bad, but Mayhew has to do better than that if he hopes to rebuild a roster in desperate need of an upgrade.
Here are the best free-agent targets for each of the Lions biggest positional needs.
5. Receiver: Donnie Avery
Avery scored two of his three touchdowns against the Lions last season.
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
The most coveted free-agent wide receiver in 2013 is also the best fit for what the Lions need opposite Calvin Johnson. Mike Wallace would have been ideal, but it appears he's headed for Miami.
ESPN reported Monday that it's a foregone conclusion he'll play for the Dolphins next season. That's fine because now Lions' fans can get back to reality. Detroit had a better chance of signing William Wallace than they did Mike Wallace.
The Lions won't be bringing any big-name receivers to town. They'll look for proven performers who come at a cheap price. Yet it's clear they need someone with top level speed who can stretch the field and they won't find that with Danny Amendola or Steve Breaston.
Donnie Avery is the closest the Lions can hope for without breaking the bank.
Ignore the fact that he's never caught more than 60 passes in a season during his career and that he missed half the 2011 season due to injury. He's got elite speed. Here's ESPN's scouting report:
Avery is explosively quick and is close to an instant accelerator but tends to rely on his raw speed alone. He can be very sloppy in his route running. He shows lapses of concentration when going over the middle and has never shown much of an ability to run with the ball after the catch unless he already has a step on pursuit.
Okay, that's not a ringing endorsement but he's got what the Lions desperately need—speed, speed and more speed. It's also worth mentioning that his salary was only $615,000 last season.
He sounds a lot better now doesn't he?
4. Safety: Chris Clemons
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
With all the Lions' problems at the safety position it would be great if they could go out and sign one of the top free agents at the position.
The Lions don't have the salary cap space to make the financial investment it takes to land such players.
So instead Martin Mayhew will do what he does best: Sit back and wait for the free-agency dust to settle and pick out the best of the rest.
Chris Clemons might be just that. At 27, he's still young and he's been a solid starter for two of his four years in the NFL—2010 and 2012. In fact last season was the best of his career.
He amassed 99 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Regardless if the Lions re-sign Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey, Clemons would add much needed depth and compete for the starting job.
He also was a key special teams contributor for the Dolphins in 2011 so he could benefit the Lions in that role as well.
3. Running Back: Danny Woodhead/Chris Rainey
Rainey hits paydirt against the Browns.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
He fits what the Lions need to a tee. However he could very well be $1-2 million outside their price range. It all depends on if they can get an extension done with Matthew Stafford to free up salary-cap space.
Even if that happens Bush has to want to come to Detroit and there's been no indication that is the case for the warm-weather loving SoCal native. So the Lions would be well served to look at several Plan B's.
Danny Woodhead is the safest bet. He could adequately fill the change-of-pace-back role the Lions so desperately need. He's speedy and effective in the passing game but he doesn't have the explosiveness that Jahvid Best had, or that Reggie Bush has.
He is consistent though, as well as an excellent athlete and a runner with great instincts. He could provide the Lions with an effective alternative to Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell.
Woodhead might be the safest pick, but Chris Rainey has potential for much more. The fifth-round pick in 2012 showed flashes of greatness as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he couldn't stay on the field.
Off-the-field issues hindered his ability to succeed and the Steelers ultimately released him following his arrest and charge with battery.
The Lions need another troubled youngster about as much as they need Matt Millen as a talent evaluator. With that said, Rainey fits the Lions' RB needs almost as well as Bush. He's undersized but has top-end speed and elusiveness. Here's ESPN's scouting report from last year.
Lighting quick and turns the corner in a flash. Low center of gravity and makes crisp cuts. Presses the line of scrimmage and bounces outside. Effective cutback runner. Makes defenders miss without wasting a lot of motion and losing momentum. Experience at receiver and can line up in slot. Shifts gears quickly and can separate from most linebackers and safeties. Burst, second gear and ability to make defenders miss in space make him dangerous after the catch.
The Lions may do well to take a chance on Rainey, at least for one year. How much damage could one player do in one season?
2. Cornerback: Antoine Cason
Cason looks for daylight after picking off the Chiefs last September.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The cornerback position for the Lions is seemingly a giant question mark every offseason and it's no different this year. Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey are both unrestricted free agents and second-year players Dwight Bentley and Chris Greenwood are coming back from season-ending injuries.
Oh by the way, Greenwood hasn't played a snap in the NFL yet.
If the Lions hope to stand a chance against today's high-flying offenses, they would be wise to add depth to this unit via free agency.
Corners like Derek Cox and Keenan Lewis are probably out of the Lions price range although both would be excellent additions and immediately upgrade the secondary.
A player that has the tools to be just as good as either of those guys, but hasn't put it all together yet, is Antoine Cason. The Lions already reached out to his agent, according to Mlive.com, but it's unclear how strong their interest is.
A lot will depend on his price tag as the Cleveland Browns are also reportedly interested and have much more cap space to work with. That might actually work in Detroit's favor as the Browns' could target bigger fish.
In Cason, the Lions would get a solid starter who's been the picture of health through five years and has started in 45 games over the past three years. He's also pulled down at least two interceptions each year.
If Houston leaves, Cason could effectively replace him. His numbers are very similar, although he's never performed like Houston did in 2011, and he's two years younger.
1. Defensive End: William Hayes
Hayes chasing down Russell Wilson of the Seahawks.
David Welker/Getty Images
The 27-year old could potentially replace Cliff Avril who's looking to break the bank in free agency and won't find the dollars he's after in Detroit.
Hayes just had the best year of his career—seven sacks, 34 tackles, 11 quarterback pressures and five quarterback hits—yet he's third on the depth chart behind Chris Long and Robert Quinn. His age and stats aren't the only things attracting the Lions though.
His salary was only $1 million last season according to Spotrac.com. Even if the Lions doubled his salary it wouldn't be a major cap hit and they'd be landing a starter.
As Richardson highlights in his article, Hayes has also proven to be a strong leader on and off the field and the Lions certainly need more players like that.
I also mentioned Michael Bennett last week as a good target for the Lions—both for his ability and his price tag. Like Hayes he's 27-years old and coming off his best season.
If the Lions were able to sign both of them they'd likely be the starters in Week 1.