Last offseason, the Detroit Lions made several key free-agent moves. Two of the more prominent acquisitions, running back Reggie Bush and safety Glover Quin, are pictured here squaring off in a game from September 2012.
They spent 2013 as teammates in Detroit. Fellow free agents Jason Jones, David Akers and C.J. Mosley joined them as newcomers to the Lions signed on the open market before training camp kicked off.
It took some creativity to scrounge up the salary-cap room to make that happen a year ago. It will take even more creativity this year to reel in some bigger free-agent fish.
Currently, Detroit has committed a little over $124.4 million to just 38 players. As Over the Cap breaks out the contracts, there is some potential for creativity.
Here's how the Lions can free up some money to reel in some bigger free-agent catches:
- Reach contract extensions with Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas and Nick Fairley
- Renegotiate deals with Nate Burleson and Rob Sims
- Release Ashlee Palmer, Jason Jones, Corey Hilliard and Montell Owens
- For the dramatic move, cut Chris Houston
Depending on the new deals for the players, that could free up quite a bit of cap space.
Given those moves, here are five free agents the Lions could lavish that newfound cash upon.
Jeremy Maclin is the forgotten name among the impending free-agent wide receivers.
The current Philadelphia Eagle missed the entire 2013 season with a knee injury. Prior to that, he was a remarkably consistent threat despite some inconsistent quarterback play in Philadelphia.
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He's most noted for his speed. Maclin clocked a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2009, per NFL Combine Results. That's the kind of field-stretching speed the Lions covet across from Calvin Johnson.
Maclin's injury might play into Detroit's favor. As Pro Football Talk noted recently:
Maclin is set to become a free agent in March and the injury complicates the outlook for a player who appeared set for a solid contract had injury not interfered. Depending on how the rest of the receiver market shakes out, Maclin may have to settle for a one-year deal to prove he's physically sound and worthy of a longer commitment.
That makes him a perfect fit for Detroit, a motivated veteran wideout with blazing speed on the cheap. He's experienced at playing opposite a dynamic playmaker already, being the second banana to DeSean Jackson with the Eagles.
Give Maclin his average season of 64 catches for 863 yards and six touchdowns in Detroit, and the Lions would be ecstatic. So would long-suffering Lions fans.
Since entering the league as Cleveland's first-round pick in 2009, Mack has emerged as one of the best centers in the league. He's certainly among the most athletic.
The good folks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) have consistently rated Mack highly. Here's how he's placed in their yearly center rankings:
With incumbent Lions center Dominic Raiola also a free agent, Detroit has a need. Mack is almost seven years younger and has several more seasons of All-Pro-caliber play ahead of him.
Adding Alex Mack would fortify an already-imposing offensive line in Detroit. He won't come cheap, but having strength in the middle of the line is often invaluable.
Defensive tackle is an underrated need for Detroit. Behind starters Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the depth pool gets shallow quickly.
Veteran C.J. Mosley proved an adequate run-stuffer as the third tackle in the rotation. Beyond Mosley, however, lurked journeyman Andre Fluellen. That's it.
The Lions sorely need to improve the depth up front. Should either Suh or Fairley go down with an injury, the results could be catastrophic.
Adding a proven reserve with some ability to rush the passer makes a lot of sense. Pat Sims of the Oakland Raiders certainly fits the profile.
Sims only has seven career sacks, but he's coming off his most prolific campaign. Oakland used him primarily as a nose tackle, and Sims delivered two sacks and 40 tackles, per Pro-Football-Reference.
Pro Football Focus credited Sims with three sacks, seven QB hits and 14 QB hurries. Those would make solid numbers in the Lions' defensive line rotation.
He already fits in with the Lions in another way, albeit a less desirable one: penalties. Sims was flagged five times in 2013, per NFL Penalties.
Green Bay Packers corner Sam Shields is poised to hit free agency. If the Lions could sign him, it would be a victory on two levels.
Foremost, Shields is a very good cover corner. While 2013 was not his best season, various injuries bear at least some of the blame. The whole Green Bay defense struggled with injuries and pass coverage throughout this past season.
He was quite good in 2012. Pro Football Focus rated him 15th overall at cornerback. Shields ranked eighth in pass coverage ratings that year.
Even in his lesser 2013, Shields still finished tied for ninth in passes defended, per PFF.
Adding to his desirability as a cover man who can get his hands on some balls, signing Shields away from the rival Packers would really hurt the NFC North champs. He's already familiar with the divisional foes, so his learning curve wouldn't be steep.
There is always risk involved in signing a free-agent cornerback, as truly great ones seldom change teams without compelling reasons. Shields left Sunday's Wild Card Game with San Francisco 49ers with a knee injury, which could impact his status.
Sometimes, NFL teams make the truly unexpected splash in the free-agent pool.
Sure, the Lions already have first-round rookie Ziggy Ansah and his eight sacks. Fellow rookie Devin Taylor showed strong promise with increased playing time down the stretch. Willie Young is a solid starter, earning a decent grade from PFF.
That makes for a pretty strong, young threesome at defensive end. Yet adding a dynamic sack artist like Bennett would bring a new dimension to the Lions defense.
Bennett bagged nine sacks in Tampa Bay in 2012, but he didn't attract the free-agent attention he expected. After recording another 8.5 sacks in 2013 in Seattle—on about 300 fewer snaps—Bennett is once again dipping his toes into free agency.
He would make quite a splash in Detroit, a team which did not transform lots of defensive line talent and pressure into actual sacks. Bennett would give the Lions an accomplished finisher...for a price.