Missing Pieces the Detroit Lions Could Still Land
Even though the peak of free agency has ended and the draft is over, the free-agent market is still littered with treasures here and there.
The Detroit Lions still have some holes to fill despite the roster coming along rather nicely after the draft. There are moves they could make and players they could sign, and free-agent contracts in the middle of summer tend to be more affordable than those in the first week of free agency.
That means that there are not only pieces the Lions could fit into their system, but ones they can actually (presumably) afford to sign.
That affordability will play a huge role in who the Lions do and don't decide to take a run at as all 32 teams start preparing for training camps in less than three months. Realistically, the Lions have someone on the roster ready to at least compete for these jobs, so if somebody is out of the Lions' price range, they'll be prepared to go ahead with who they have.
But regardless of who fills these positions (and whether or not the person is currently on the roster), here are the spots on the team the Lions should be most concerned with filling.
Veteran Depth at Offensive Tackle
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It sure didn't take long for the Lions offensive line to go from one of the oldest units in the league to one of the youngest.
The Lions are preparing to replace three 2012 starters on the offensive line who had a combined age of 94 with three players with a combined age of 70 (or 73, if Corey Hilliard starts at right tackle instead of Jason Fox). And at some point in the next year, the Lions could shave another 10 years off the age of their offensive line if Bill Nagy takes over for Dominic Raiola at center.
That's a good thing, especially if all those guys can play relatively well. But the Lions value veteran depth wherever they can get it, and those veterans have now left the team. The Lions didn't need veteran depth before because they had Jeff Backus leading by example.
Now the tackle position is all youth, and there's nobody to play a "mentor" position. Corey Hilliard is the oldest one of the bunch, but he's not interested in mentoring—he's 28 and trying to win a starting spot.
According to Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, the Lions have been talking to former Colt Winston Justice, who could factor into the roster battle at right tackle and would otherwise provide steady veteran leadership in the locker room.
Kick Return Specialist
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Stefan Logan didn't leave very big shoes to fill, literally or figuratively.
He seemed to actually regress during his time in Detroit, going from one of the better return men in the game to average in all respects, to actively bad over the course of three seasons.
Logan is off the team, and now there is a wide-open battle at return specialist, with diverse applicants. Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Darius Slay, and any number of wide receivers could be applicable to return positions.
Of course, the Lions could put this to rest very quickly by taking a flier on former Brown Josh Cribbs, who has been one of the better return specialists in the NFL over the last few years. ESPN speculates that the Lions would be a good landing spot for Cribbs, and he would certainly fill a need, but price range would certainly be an issue.
Veteran Depth at Cornerback
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The Detroit Lions have Chris Houston and his six years of experience ready to start games for them. After that, they have four players with a combined three years of experience.
Houston counts as a veteran at this point, and he has remained relatively stable in terms of staying healthy. Additionally, the Lions are in pretty good shape in terms of overall talent level at cornerback, but they could use a veteran to stabilize the position in case they get ravaged by injury again in 2013.
And no, Ron Bartell isn't the answer, unless the question is "who's that guy chasing the receiver into the end zone?"
However, Quentin Jammer is available, and while it wouldn't be a good idea to let him take snaps away from the Lions' young corners who need to develop, he would be a valuable insurance policy in the event that the young guys don't develop at the rate they're supposed to (or they get injured). Jammer has never been a household name, but he's been a model of consistency.
Depth at Defensive Tackle
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Right now, the Lions feel pretty good about starting former first-round picks Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle(s). C.J. Mosley represents very good depth.
But the Lions are accustomed to having four quality defensive tackles to rotate between, and unless one of their practice squad players is better than advertised, they're going to need to find a way to improve this part of the roster unless they want Suh to have to play over 90 percent of the team's defensive snaps again, like he did in his rookie year.
Incidentally, Corey Williams has not been signed yet, and while he pushed Kyle Vanden Bosch for the title of "most overpaid player" last year, getting him back for a reserve role at something close to the veteran minimum would almost certainly be a better option than anything else they could scrounge up at this point.
The Lions don't need a major playmaker at defensive tackle—they already have two of those. They just need someone to play solid ball to keep the front four fresh. Williams, if healthy, could be that guy, especially now that Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen are with different teams.
Veteran at Defensive End
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I know, the Lions have Jason Jones, and that's real cool and all. But Jones has all of one year at defensive end. Though he's a veteran of the game, he's relatively new at defensive end.
And who else do the Lions have at defensive end?
Two rookies, a second-year player who has one career snap under his belt, and Willie Young, who has played sparingly in the last two years and may never be better than a situational third-down pass-rusher.
Like with many other positions, the Lions would benefit from a stable, veteran presence. Someone with experience in a 4-3 who can help develop the younger guys.
Dwight Freeney is a name that will pop up, but he is unlikely to sign for a sum in the Lions' price range. They might instead take a shot on someone like Ty Warren. Warren has had a difficult time staying healthy recently, but a reduced workload might make that OK.
Warren is a better run-stopper than he is a pass-rusher, so perhaps he could pair up with Jones or Ziggy Ansah in run-heavy situations?
More than anything, the Lions need competition in training camp. They may take five DEs into the regular season, but that's all they currently have on the roster. They need that camp competition to spur development in the young guys (which is most of the guys).