Free Agents and Draft Picks That Could Fill Detroit's Biggest Needs
Hopefully that offseason is not coming before January, but that remains to be seen over the final three games.
The Lions will have some holes to fill. Between impending free agency of several contributors, a couple of potential retirements and some lingering weak points, there is a lot on general manager Martin Mayhew's plate.
Detroit does not appear to have much cap room to lure any premium free agents. Per overthecap.com, the Lions have committed just under $124 million in salary-cap space to existing contracts in 2014.
While the 2014 salary cap has yet to be determined, there is a general presumption the final cap will be close to $125 million. Obviously there will be some flexibility with renegotiated deals and potential cap casualties, but to keep things simple this article will focus on more realistically affordable free agents.
Here are some of the primary anticipated needs facing Detroit this offseason, and some players who could fill those holes.
*All free agency and contract information is derived from Spotrac.com.
It's safe to say the Lions will be replacing Raiola this offseason. Practice squad member Rodney Austin is one option, but there are plenty of other options.
Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Has started all 49 games in his four years in Fort Collins and anchored an offensive line that has helped the Rams to the second-most productive offensive performance in school history (447.2 yards/game). In 2013, has graded above 90 percent in every game and leads offensive line with 42 knockdown blocks.
If the Lions are looking for a stylistic copy of Raiola, Richburg is their man. He figures to be drafted in the third or fourth round.
Others worth considering: Bryan Stork, Florida State (Round 4); Gabe Ikard (Rounds 4-5); Zach Kerin, Toledo (Rounds 5-6).
Luring him away from a division rival is certainly appealing. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he's currently the 12th-rated center in the league in 2013. He turns 28 over the summer, which gives him several useful seasons.
He has missed most of the last two seasons, including all of 2013, with various injuries. Before that, Walton was an effective starter for the Denver Broncos.
The durability issues should foster an inexpensive, incentive-laden contract which could allow the Lions to take a chance on Walton.
The starting duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is set in stone for 2014. However, Fairley is a free agent after the 2014 season.
Top reserve C.J. Mosley will also be playing out his contract, and the depth chart plummets after those three.
This is unlikely to be a top priority, but augmenting the depth chart is something the Lions will want to do heading into 2014.
Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
A real handful as a disruptive interior rusher, Barnett would provide a reserve with future starting potential who is stylistically similar to Fairley.
Also like Fairley, Barnett is inconsistently productive. He can be dominant at times but struggles to get off blocks or maintain positional integrity other times. Depending on his postseason workouts, Barnett should be available in either the third of fourth rounds for the Lions.
Remember, the third round is where the Lions drafted Sammie Lee Hill, who was very effective in the top reserve role before cashing in as a free agent with Tennessee.
Others to consider: Anthony Johnson, LSU (Round 2); Eathyn Manumaleuna, BYU (Round 5); Bruce Gaston, Purdue (Round 7).
One of the more underappreciated role players in the league, McDonald is a positive rotational player for a very strong Seattle defense. Per his player profile at ESPN, the Memphis product has 4.5 sacks and an interception on the season.
A seventh-round pick by the Bengals in 2009, he was waived by the Seahawks last August before returning before Week 1. Just 26, he is used to playing in a reserve role but has demonstrated enough upside for an expanded role.
Calvin Johnson is almost inarguably the best wide receiver in the NFL today. Unfortunately, the Lions have struggled to find a legitimate secondary option to pair with him on a consistent basis.
Adding a speedy outside receiver with decent size figures to be a priority for Detroit this offseason.
Davante Adams, Fresno State
He's just a redshirt sophomore, but should he declare, Adams perfectly fits what the Lions are looking for at wide receiver. At 6'2" and 205 solid pounds, Adams has the body to take punishment and make tough catches in traffic.
His ability to quickly transition from receiver to runner is perhaps his most attractive attribute. Bleacher Report's Tyler Brooke highlighted his strong game versus San Jose State. Adams has the potential to impress NFL teams enough to raise his draft stock into the late first round.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
If the Lions opt to mimic the division rival Chicago Bears and field two physically intimidating wideouts, Benjamin certainly fits the bill. While he's raw technically, Benjamin drew high praise form Duke coach David Cutcliffe, as noted by Mike Huguenin of NFL.com:
We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin. He's just a monster, and with great skills.
Trying to match up with Megatron and Benjamin would prove incredibly problematic for opposing defenses.
Others to consider: Paul Richardson, Colorado (Round 2); Ryan Grant, Tulane (Rounds 4-5); Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State (Rounds 5-6); Josh Huff, Oregon (Rounds 6-7).
There were trade rumors of questionable validity involving Nicks and the Lions earlier this season, as noted by Pro Football Talk.
While that never materialized, Nicks still fits the bill for Detroit once he becomes a free agent.
The biggest issue with Nicks is durability, as he has been in and out of the Giants lineup over the past few seasons. When he was healthy, Nicks provided the downfield threat the Lions covet.
Because of the health concerns, Nicks figures to be an inexpensive reclamation project with real upside.
Detroit has a solid starting duo in Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. It might seem superfluous to add another linebacker to a defense which rarely plays three, but adding a pass-rusher would bring another dimension to the defense.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
His impressive resume, available here from NFL Draft Scout, highlights his productivity and versatility. He could replace Tulloch on passing downs and offers better ability as both a cover backer and a blitzer between the tackles.
It would require the Lions' first-round pick to secure Shazier's services.
Boseko Lokombo, Oregon
Should the Lions opt to fill the hole with a third-day pick, Lokombo is a player they should consider. As I wrote for Detroit Lions Draft back in September, he's a willing and able complementary player.
The speed and reaction quickness are good enough, and he's a smart player with high character.
The free-agent class doesn't appear strong, but there are a couple of potentially useful veterans that could fill the role for a year or two on an inexpensive contract.
He has played as an inside backer in Buffalo's base 3-4 defense, but his athletic profile could fit the role Detroit is looking for. Earlier in his career, Moats played on the strong side in a 4-3 alignment and showed promise as a situational pass-rusher.
In each of his first two seasons in Buffalo, Moats recorded 2.5 sacks per Pro Football Reference. He's just 25 and will likely come affordable.
Currently playing as a reserve in New Orleans, Casillas has starting experience. The Wisconsin product is best known for his coverage ability, which Pro Football Focus (subscription required) positively evaluates this season.
After decades of stability with Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson, the Lions rolled the dice with veteran David Akers in 2013.
His underwhelming performance and advanced age almost certainly mean the Lions will trot out a new kicker in 2014.
Detroit has a bit of a luxury in that it doesn't need a kickoff man. Punter Sam Martin capably handles those duties. The job opening is all about field-goal prowess.
Drafting a kicker is always a dicey proposition. Many teams shun the idea altogether.
The Lions did fare well in drafting Martin higher than expected last year, which could encourage them to take another stab in the 2014 NFL Draft.
According to CBS Sportsline, the top kicker is Tulane's Cairo Santos. None are projected to come off the board before the fifth round, and that might be an optimistic assessment.
Havard Rugland, Norway
Most fans know him as Kickalicious, the Norwegian Youtube sensation (as seen above).
Rugland competed with Akers for the job throughout the 2013 preseason and was impressive. He tailed off late in camp, but the leg strength and raw ability remain intriguing. He has remained in close contact with the team and would be a welcome presence in training camp next summer.
Others to consider: Graham Gano, Carolina; Steven Hauschka, Seattle; Dan Carpenter, Buffalo.
The Lions cycle through corners with alarming voracity. While three of the top four corners on the depth chart (Chris Houston, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley) are all under contract through at least 2014, adding a top-shelf cover man could be in the offering.
Detroit could also have interest in bringing in a young, developmental type of corner, especially later in the draft.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
The Spartan standout has the size the Lions covet at 5'11" and about 200 pounds, and he plays bigger than his size.
Dennard thrives in press-man coverage but can also play off-man and press-bail techniques, all of which the Lions utilize at various times.
If he tests well athletically, the Lions would be lucky to get him with their first-round pick. Dennard should be a strong consideration for Detroit's first pick.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Jean-Baptiste emerged onto the draft radar with a strong senior season for the Cornhuskers. He's a giant for a corner at 6'2" and a listed 220 pounds.
His effort isn't always there, particularly against the run
@JoshNorris watch SJB vs. run; I found lacking effort vs. Michigan & Sparty— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) November 29, 2013
Still, he demonstrated very good ball skills and improved field awareness in 2013. He figures to be a fourth-round pick.
Others to consider: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (Rounds 2-3); Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (Round 3); Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State (Rounds 5-6); Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern (Round 7).
As the Lions have a fairly crowded depth chart and lack the cap room to chase after prominent free agents, the listings here are for inexpensive players who would compete for depth positions.
Should the Lions part ways with Chris Houston—which is highly unlikely as he is owed over $10 million in cap room which would become dead money—this position would certainly rise up the pecking order.
The most obvious player to consider is current Lion Rashean Mathis. He has played pretty well after being signed off the street late in the preseason.
He's 33 and might want a more lucrative payday elsewhere. Yet Mathis is coming off a strong game and fits in well with the locker room mix in Detroit. He's worth keeping, all things being equal.