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Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on the Free-Agency Rumor Mill

Jeff RisdonContributor IMarch 9, 2014

Buying or Selling Latest Buzz on the Free-Agency Rumor Mill

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2014 NFL free-agency signing period begins Tuesday, March 11 at 3 p.m. ET. Teams have been free to negotiate with player agents since Saturday at 12 p.m. ET, which offers the chance for speculation and rumors to run rampant.

    With just under $11 million of salary-cap room to shop with, the Lions are out of the top-shelf, free-agent market. 

    Detroit has been connected to several different players in one form or another. Some of these talks will bear free-agent fruit, while others will simply wilt on the rumor vine.

    Heading into the signing period, here are some of the potential Lions mentioned in free agency. Which of these will join general manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell and team president Tom Lewand (pictured above) in the next team program?

Lance Moore

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    The connect-the-dots game with wide receiver Lance Moore to the Lions began almost instantaneously upon his release from New Orleans. 

    It's an easy connection to make; new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent the last seven years as an offensive assistant with the Saints, and Moore thrived in the prolific passing offense in New Orleans. 

    Moore is a slot receiver by trade, a hole the Lions are definitely looking to fill. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes: 

    He ran 52% of his routes out of the slot last year, and Lombardi said last month that an ideal way to complement Calvin Johnson’s talents would be to find “someone to work underneath.”

    The veteran receiver from Toledo certainly makes sense, but that doesn't make him a lock to rejoin forces with Lombardi.

    Other younger, more dynamic options are out there as well. Andre Roberts, Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate all offer more upside and long-term potential than the 30-year old Moore, who is coming off a season in which Drew Brees opted to look elsewhere quite a bit. 

    Familiarity does mean something, but apparently, the Lions want to explore other options before Moore. Because he was released, any team can sign him at any time. The fact that the Lions did not pounce already is a sign that Moore is nothing more than a backup plan. 

    Verdict: Sell for now.

T.J. Ward

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    MARCO GARCIA/Associated Press

    Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward is another bigger-name, free-agent attraction who has been connected to Detroit. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport mentioned it Sunday:

    Among the teams inquiring about #Browns free agent S T.J. Ward? The #Lions. Detroit hopes to create cap space with a Suh deal, can spend

    — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 9, 2014

    Moreover, Cleveland.com's Terry Pluto noted in his must-read Sunday column that he doesn't expect Ward back with the Browns:

    The more I learn about how Pettine views safeties -- the more I understand why T.J. Ward is not likely to be back. Pettine wants faster safeties, guys better in coverage than just run-stoppers. 

    The Lions have a coverage-oriented safety already in the den with former cornerback Glover Quin, and third safety Don Carey is also a converted corner. 

    Of course, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Ward positively in coverage in both 2012 and '13, so it's not like Ward is lacking in cover ability either.

    The key to Ward in Detroit is laid out in Rapoport's tweet. If the Lions are going to win the bidding war for Ward, they must have as much cap room as possible available.

    That means signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a new contract that will free up millions in salary-cap space.

    Verdict: Buy, if Suh has a new deal by Tuesday, otherwise it's a begrudging sell.

Hakeem Nicks

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Speculation has linked former New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks to the Detroit Lions for quite some time, including via NFL.com's Elliot Harrison.

    Recently, Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit offered an excellent piece arguing the merits of Detroit signing Nicks. As noted there:

    ...it's not hard to see why Nicks is one of the most sought-after receivers on the free-agent market. There's an endless amount of highlights of Nicks making impressive, highly-contested grabs.

    That sure sounds like someone the Lions would have an interest in, no?

    ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Nicks does want to return to New York. However...

    "If he does not re-sign with New York, he is hopeful of finding a team with a proven quarterback."

    Detroit checks that box with Matthew Stafford.

    Mortensen also mentions another factor which could help favor the Lions as a destination:

    "He is willing to weigh a one-year contract to prove his past two seasons were aberrations, league sources said."

    A deal like that is exactly what the Lions would love, something cap-friendly that places the burden on the player to earn a bigger contract.

    Verdict: Buying that there is some fire behind the long-simmering smoke.

James Ihedigbo

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Another free agent who offers familiarity with the new coaching staff is former Ravens safety James Ihedigbo.

    New Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was his position coach in Baltimore, and the Lions need a starting safety after releasing veteran Louis Delmas.

    Once again, the dots are pretty easy to connect here. As Justin Rogers of MLive notes:

    "On the familiarity front, it's easy to see Detroit bringing in veteran James Ihedigbo, who played under Austin in Baltimore the past three seasons."

    Rogers continued:

    "Ihedigbo, 30, is older, but coming off his best season with 101 tackles and three interceptions, both career highs. Austin also recently praised Ihedigbo's leadership."

    Knowing the defensive expectations is a real asset, but the thing that makes Ihedigbo just as attractive to Detroit is his price tag. Relative to bigger names like Donte Whitner, Chris Clemons or Malcolm Jenkins, the former undrafted free agent from Massachusetts figures to come with less of a long-term cap obligation.

    Verdict: Buy. Ihedigbo isn't likely the first choice at safety, but expect the Lions to be all over him if they fail to land a bigger name like Ward or Clemons. 

Alterraun Verner

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, the Lions are in the mix for former Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner.

    Add the Lions, Steelers and Giants to the mix of teams with interest in #Titans CB Alterraun Verner. Mentioned Rams, Vikings & NYJ earlier

    — Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) March 9, 2014

    He has many suitors for a reason. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Verner 12th overall among corners in 2013. In addition, his 55.8 Rating Allowed in coverage finished fourth in the NFL.

    There are a few drawbacks with Verner. At 5'10", he's smaller than what the Lions have sought at cornerback recently.

    Also, he was flagged for eight penalties last year. No Lions corner was flagged for more than Bill Bentley's five.

    With all of those teams interested, it's tough to see the Lions entering into a bidding war for a cornerback—even one who provides an obvious upgrade like Verner. 

    Verdict: Sell.

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