Detroit Lions: State of the Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
As a Detroit Lions fan, the best part of your year is here: the offseason. Let's celebrate!
In all seriousness, there's a lot going on. The salary cap needs to be addressed, and a few key players are eligible for new contracts.
So what will the Lions do? I don't know, but here's the situation as it currently stands.
2013 Season Recap
The 2013 season was the perfect blend of memorable and forgettable.
Memorable because the Lions shot out to a 6-3 record capped by arguably the most exciting win in franchise history against Dallas.
Forgettable because the team failed to reach the potential of the talented roster. Forgettable because it felt the same as so many prior seasons.
Detroit failed to take advantage of a commanding division lead despite having the only healthy starting quarterback. There were a few bright spots, like the emergence of running back Joique Bell, but the season will be remembered for collapsing onto itself into a pile of mediocrity.
General manager Martin Mayhew has his work cut out for him. The Lions enter the league year sitting about $6.8 million over the cap.
However, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is set to account for $22.4 million against the cap himself. Mayhew is surely working with Suh's new agent to lower that hit with a nice long-term deal.
There are other possible moves that would lower that number considerably. Underwhelming safety Louis Delmas is set to account for $6.5 million, but it would only take a cap hit of $500,000 to cut him loose.
Oh, and Nate Burleson is a $7.5 million hit. That'll be reduced either by agreement or a thank you and a have a good day.
Impending Free Agents
The Lions have a few key players who could exit via free agency. The question is whether they should.
Running back Joique Bell was key to the limited success that the Lions enjoyed in 2013. While Mayhew has the leverage of Bell's restricted status, locking Bell up to a long-term deal would be mutually beneficial to both parties.
And what does Mayhew do about tight end Brandon Pettigrew? Does he hold his faith that the former first-rounder fulfills his potential, or do they cut bait with a failed prospect?
Lastly, the Lions should reach a deal with center Dominica Raiola. He's coming off his best season, will come cheaply and will let the offensive line keep a good thing going.
Restricted Free Agents
RB Joique Bell
WR Kris Durham
TE Dorin Dickerson
Unrestricted Free Agents
QB Shaun Hill
WR Kevin Ogletree
WR Michael Spurlock
TE Brandon Pettigrew
OT Jason Fox
OG Dylan Gandy
C Dominic Raiola
DE Willie Young
DE Israel Idonije
DT Andre Fluellen
LB Rocky McIntosh
CB Rashean Mathis
S John Wendling
K David Akers
LS Don Muhlbach
Exclusive-Rights Free Agents
WR Jeremy Ross
TE Matt Veldman
LB Julian Standord
CB Chris Greenwood
The 2013 season ended in an unflattering fashion. The Ford family had no choice.
Exit Jim Schwartz. Enter Jim Caldwell.
Caldwell wasn't the popular choice as fans wanted to see what Ken Whisenhunt could do, but he has essentially the same track record and some serious success with quarterbacks (see Manning, Peyton).
Additionally, Caldwell didn't go the retread route in terms of coordinators. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi comes over after a long stint as Drew Brees' quarterbacks coach, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was Baltimore's secondary coach this time last year.
The Lions didn't clean house, though. They smartly brought back offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and special teams guru John Bonamego.
Let's say it together: "Get Calvin some damn help!"
The Lions have to get another big, fast receiver to punish defenses opposite Calvin Johnson. They need the Alshon Jeffery to Megatron's Brandon Marshall.
And oddly enough, Detroit needs to find more defensive line depth. The possible offseason defections will leave the Lions a little top-heavy. The loss of Israel Idonije and Willie Young will be hard to offset.
Lastly, the secondary needs help. Shocking.
There isn't much money to spend. We went over this in the salary-cap slide. Let go of any crazy dreams of adding top-notch talent.
But don't let go of hope. There's plenty of bargains out there.
Check out wide receiver Jacoby Jones. He'd be a nice fit. His 13.4-yard average would help keep defenses honest opposite Johnson.
Other than that, the chances of landing much are slim. Some outside shots include defensive end Jared Allen and Justin Tuck.
Let's end with some fun. The new and unknown is exactly what the NFL draft is all about, and it's always exciting.
The best scenario for the Lions is explosive wide receiver Sammy Watkins falling to the 10th spot. He's exactly what the Lions are looking for.
More than likely, Watkins will be gone, making linebacker Kyle Van Noy an interesting pick. The former roommate of Ziggy Ansah would add another unpredictable element to a defense line in need of playmakers.
Those are both hopeful scenarios. However, grabbing offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas later in the draft would be nice. He'd make defenses pay attention to the flats, leaving the rest of the field open to Johnson and whoever Mayhew brings in to keep defenses on their heels.