Ranking Detroit Lions' 6 Best Remaining Free Agency Options

Brandon AlisogluCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2014

Ranking Detroit Lions' 6 Best Remaining Free Agency Options

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Detroit Lions haven't been overly active in free agency thus far. Fans are anxious for a few more additions due to the holes scattered throughout the roster and have been chattering about this guy or that guy.

    Unfortunately, the Lions have yet to strike a deal with Ndamukong Suh, meaning his $22.4 million cap hit is alive and well. Along with the monster contracts already doled out to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, Detroit's salary cap has been strangled down to just $2.3 million.

    That's not even enough to sign the rookie class. 

    General manager Martin Mayhew has plenty of work to do this offseason, both with existing contracts and in the market. The following rankings are both a glimmer of hope going forward and contingent on Detroit lowering Suh's cap number this year.

    All cap and salary numbers are sourced from spotrac.com. All stats, metrics and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.

6. Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Shaun Phillips

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    The Lions will be trotting out the familiar 4-3 next season, but head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have brought up adding little tweaks. They don't want the defense to get stale. They want to eschew predictability and keep offensive coordinators on their toes.

    That new attitude will likely require a different style of player. The coaches could be merely referring to using more blitzes, but that only kicks up the creativity a single notch. 

    That's why the Lions should bring in Shaun Phillips. His tweener size (6'3", 255 pounds) would bring a versatility that nobody currently on the roster can provide. 

    Austin and Caldwell want to shake things up and strike fear into opposing offenses? Then bring in a pass-rushing specialist who racked up 10 sacks last year and only needed a million dollars to do so.

5. Wide Receiver Jason Avant

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Before roughly half of you dismiss Jason Avant as a washed-up Wolverine, remember that Kris Durham is the third receiver as it stands today. And even if the Lions grab an explosive playmaker to plug into the slot, that still leaves Durham as the fourth-best wideout.

    That's all a long way of saying the Lions need receivers. But they don't just need someone to stretch the field or make people miss after the catch; they need guys who will hold onto the ball and help move the chains.

    That description perfectly fits Jason Avant. In fact, I'm rewriting his Wikipedia page tonight. Or at least his Twitter profile. 

    Avant has only six drops against 148 receptions the past three years, including zero misses in 2012. That stat should spur Detroit's front office into action considering the team led the league in drops last season.

4. Safety James Ihedigbo

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    There are some positives to safety James Ihedigbo's game.

    First, he can bring the thunder against the running game. He notched 91 tackles last year and a very positive 7.8 PFF grade in that sector.

    Next, he has familiarity with Austin from their days in Baltimore. There's a good chance that Austin will know exactly where to place Ihedigbo so that he can succeed. 

    That's good because there will be plenty of obstacles in the safety's path to decent-ness. He isn't particularly adept in the pass game (73rd out of 86 safeties) and has a tendency to prefer power over form when tackling (18 missed tackles last year).

    Sounds an awful lot like a safety who used to play in Ihedigbo's presumed spot. Maybe Austin and Caldwell know what they're doing, but there's a reason this pick up isn't rated higher.

3. Defensive End Jared Allen

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Does anybody believe that Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp are the answers to Detroit's sack problem? If you answered yes to that question or didn't understand there was a problem, allow me to help.

    Jones and Tapp have 12 sacks combined in the past three years, and the Lions brought down the quarterback just two more times than the worst teams in the league last season. There isn't a single typo in that sentence.

    Jared Allen will be 32 next season and isn't nearly as consistent as once was. He can, however, rack up the sacks considering he had 13 last year. 

    He would be a great rotational player with the current crop of defensive ends. The biggest hurdle will be finding a deal that works for both the Lions and Allen as he has yet to lower his salary demands to fit the market.

    This is pure speculation, but a two-year, $8-12 million deal with incentives and an out for the team would serve everybody's best interest. The wide range allows the Lions to find where Allen's demands truly lie and the quickly rising salary cap would give them the ability to keep him for the second year if it works out.

2. Safety Chris Clemons

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Out of every scenario presented in this slideshow, the lack of buzz or excitement surrounding Chris Clemons coming to Detroit is the most perplexing. He would seemingly be a great fit for a team in desperate need of a safety. 

    Clemons has the coverage chops that Ihedigbo lacks. He was a top-10 in terms of coverage, coming in one spot ahead of Glover Quin.

    Plus, he's a capable tackler. He finished last year with 81 total tackles, although it'd be nice if he cut down on his 14 whiffs.

    All of that equates to the ninth-best safety for the 2013 season. If there is anything Detroit needs to improve, it's the secondary.

    Watch out for this move. Mayhew could fill a huge need and it would give him more flexibility come draft time since he wouldn't be forced into taking a safety high.

1. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Antonio Cromartie was let go earlier this month in a cap-saving move for the New York Jets. Their loss could be the Lions' big-time gain.

    Cromartie missed out on the cash frenzy when teams were shelling out big bucks for the game's top corners. But time might not have been the only reason. The three-time Pro Bowler completed one of his worst campaigns in 2013, grading out so poorly (-12.0) that he finished 103rd out of 110 corners.

    However, the skills are there, and playing for the Jets could derail anybody's career. He also has the height (6'2") and length that the new coaching staff covets.

    Lastly, his disappointing year could also play directly into the Lions' hands. If Mayhew extends Suh and significantly lowers his cap hit, Detroit could extend a one-year prove-it deal to Cromartie in the neighborhood of $5-6 million.

    Detroit needs to find out if Darius Slay and Bill Bentley can be the future cornerstones of a successful secondary. However, the chance to add a proven playmaker is too enticing, and there will be plenty of opportunities for the young guys to get on the field in nickel and dime situations.