Creating Detroit Lions Free Agency Fall Back Plan

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IMarch 11, 2014

Creating Detroit Lions Free Agency Fall Back Plan

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    The Detroit Lions are set to tackle the NFL free agency period when it officially begins on Tuesday, March 11 at 4 p.m. ET. 

    Even though the franchise is going forward with heavy hearts in the wake of the death of owner William Ford Sr., they cannot afford to lose focus on improving Mr. Ford's beloved team.

    With relatively limited cap resources—just under $11 million according to Over The Cap—the Lions are not likely to land any real big free-agent fish. 

    Detroit would love to lure targets like Hakeem Nicks (pictured) or Alterraun Verner into the den, but it's unlikely the Lions have the cap resources to compete for more than one high-profile target. That forces general manager Martin Mayhew to have contingency plans in place.

    Here are some of those contingency plans that Detroit should have in place as free agency begins...

    Advanced statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which requires a subscription for premium content. 

Wide Receiver

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Wide receiver is a major need for the Detroit Lions, without a doubt.

    The free-agent pool has several attractive candidates that figure to pique Detroit's interest.

    One of those is former Green Bay Packer James Jones. Tony Pauline of Draft Insider reported that the Lions do indeed have interest:

    I'm told wide out James Jones receiving heavy interest from the Detroit Lions & New York Jets...Green Bay Packers may still be in the mix..

    — Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 11, 2014

    Jones led all NFL wide receivers with 14 touchdowns in 2012, per NFL.com. He would offer Detroit a legit second outside receiving threat to pair with Calvin Johnson.

    Another outside threat often linked to Detroit, as I recently covered, is Hakeem Nicks. His professes willingness to sign a one-year deal is helpful for his prospects in Detroit. 

    If the Lions chase after a slot threat, former Pittsburgh Steeler Emmanuel Sanders figures to be in the mix. As reported by Behind the Steel Curtain, the Lions have expressed interest here as well.

    Should those options fall through, some other realistically affordable names to consider include:

    • Jacoby Jones
    • Andre Roberts
    • Julian Edelman
    • Ted Ginn

    Jones has a connection with head coach Jim Caldwell from their days together in Baltimore. Both he and Edelman offer extensive playoff experience, which is something that could draw more attention from the Lions. 

Safety

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Safety is one position where the Lions figure to be quite active in free agency. With former starter Louis Delmas signing with Miami on Monday (h/t Pro Football Talk), the Lions have a big hole opposite one of last year's free-agent signings, Glover Quin.

    The three premier names on the free-agent market are Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner. Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune reported on the market price for each:

    Was told last night current price for Jairus Byrd was $8 mil, TJ Ward $7 mil and Donte Whitner $6 mil per season. No idea where it is today.

    — Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 10, 2014

    If those figures are accurate, it's extremely unlikely the Lions can even afford Whitner.

    The next tier does feature some players of interest. Former Dolphin Chris Clemons (pictured) is one name tossed about on the rumor mill, including this tidbit from Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press:

    Clemons to #Lions? RT @PriscoCBS: Delmas is a solid signing for Miami to prepare for Chris Clemons leaving

    — Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) March 10, 2014

    Another fall back plan is former Baltimore Ravens starter James Ihedigbo, who played under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Baltimore. I recently laid out his potential as a Lion here

    Of course, the Lions might already have the contingency plan on the roster in veteran Don Carey. He played well in limited duty at safety last year, notably in run support. The Lions also added former New Orleans Saint Isa Abdul Quddus off waivers to compete at the position, which gives them two reserves with solid experience already. 

    Their presence affords the Lions some flexibility in not needing to overpay for a free-agent safety. The better course of action might be to wait until the draft if the price isn't right on the early open market. 

Cornerback

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    With potential target Sam Shields re-signing with the Packers, the free-agent pool at cornerback is shallower than expected already.

    In addition, the large sums commanded by those two players likely keeps the Lions out of the market for any corners that would rank any higher than fourth on the depth chart behind Chris Houston, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley. 

     YearsTotal $$Signing Bonus
    Sam Shields  4  $39 $12.5

    *Dollar figures in millions, from Pro Football Talk

    If that is the market rate for remaining free agents like Vontae Davis, Alterraun Verner and freshly released Carlos Rogers (h/t Josina Anderson of ESPN), Detroit can forget about signing any outside corner of note.

     

    The one contingency plan Detroit has here is one of its own, Rashean Mathis. The veteran corner was the highest-rated cover man on the team in 2013, per PFF.

    Bringing back Mathis, who turns 34 in August, might not be the sexiest move in free agency, but it's arguably the most prudent signing the Lions can make at cornerback.

Tight End

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The tight end market is an interesting one for Detroit, should they opt to attack the position in free agency.

    The number one option on the market is Jimmy Graham, but the New Orleans Saints placed the franchise tag on him. As noted by Sports World News, it would cost two first-round picks to sign him, in addition to the exorbitant salary he figures to command. 

    With former Green Bay Packer Jermichael Finley's health questionable after neck surgery (h/t Dr. Dave Siebert of Bleacher Report), the best available tight end could very well be Brandon Pettigrew.

    The former first-round pick has spent his entire career in Detroit, but the Lions opted to let him test the open market. He will have other suitors. 

    Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reported that the Giants are looking at Pettigrew to fill their gaping hole at the position.

    While the Lions do indeed have interest in bringing Pettigrew back, as noted from ESPN's report on Mayhew's media session at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, they cannot afford to enter into a bidding war for Pettigrew.

    His successor as the starting tight end, Joseph Fauria, is already on the roster. In addition, 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Williams figures into the mix in Pettigrew's blocking role.

    The Lions would like to have Pettigrew back in the den, but they won't overpay. 

    Fallback options are fairly slim, as this is not a great free-agent class at tight end. The next two options on CBS's list of top free agents are Garrett Graham and Scott Chandler, ranking 122 and 123 respectively. 

    Don't expect the Lions to make much of a splash here in free agency if Pettigrew does not return. The draft offers more realistic options, given the cap constraints and the more pressing needs at other positions. 

Backup Quarterback

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Lions figure to be in the market for a new backup for Matthew Stafford, as longtime quarterback Shaun Hill is a free agent who is not expected to return.

    Detroit does have some options in the free-agent market, as veterans with experience like Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson and Matt Flynn will all garner interest from some teams.

    If the Lions are looking for a quarterback with skills similar to Stafford, former Panthers backup Anderson makes the most sense. He has starting experience, including a strong 2007 campaign in Cleveland where he led that moribund franchise to 10 wins.

    Anderson has thrown just three passes in the last three seasons, per his profile at Pro Football Reference. His strong arm and limited mobility are his calling cards. 

    It's entirely possible the Lions choose to wait until after the draft to address the backup quarterback spot. Kellen Moore remains on the roster and he showed enough in the 2013 preseason to merit a shot at the gig. 

    However, Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News reported that the Lions are not sold on Moore:

    Mayhew on K. Moore as 2nd QB: "I haven’t seen enough of him in actual games to say that you just role with him and you feel great about it."

    — Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) February 21, 2014

    If the Lions cannot land a veteran on the cheap, look for the team to address the need with a late-round draft pick.