What Offseason Moves Are Next for the Detroit Lions with the Draft Complete?
This is now the time of year when the team focuses on tightening the ship. Aside from signing all the draft picks to contracts, which will happen in time, there are two main thrusts to that ship tightening.
One of those is tying up loose ends, such as contract extensions for veterans or renegotiations for salary-cap purposes. This also encompasses taking health assessments of players who are coming off injuries or recent surgeries in order to gauge their availability and viability going forward.
Secondly, it's team-building time. Over 20 new prospective Lions joined the den in the last week, including top pick Eric Ebron (pictured with Lewand, Mayhew and coach Jim Caldwell left to right). The coaching staff has to evaluate how each fits and how to best utilize the talent on hand.
It's not the most exciting time of the football calendar, but it can be a very important one nonetheless.
Here are some moves the Lions will be making over the next few weeks.
Sign Ndamukong Suh to an Extension
Star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is entering the final year of his contract. While Suh and the Lions have attempted to hammer out a new deal, those talks have yet to bear fruit.
Finishing off a new contract for Suh should be the team's top priority. Then again, it's been a priority since last summer, as noted by Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports.
The two sides have spoken recently but have not come together on terms.
One of the problems for the Lions is that Suh holds the leverage in negotiations, and he knows it. McIntyre notes:
If the Lions do not reach an extension with Suh before his contract expires in 2014, he will most likely become an unrestricted as the franchise tag would not be a viable option for the team to restrict Suh's movement. Assuming Suh triggers a relatively easy to achieve $1 million base salary escalator for 2014, the cost of franchising Suh in 2015 would rise to $26.895 million. The Lions will also be carrying $9.7375 million in leftover prorated amounts from the 2011 option bonus and pair of signing bonuses they issued in 2012 and 2013 on their 2015 cap.
There were rumors of a potential Suh trade, though the Lions quickly shot those down (h/t Kevin Patra of NFL.com). Aside from the incredible concept of dealing away the team's best defensive player, there are few teams that could afford to take on Suh's current massive cap hit.
Still, a deal must get done, and the sooner the better. The price tag will only escalate as other star players sign lucrative new deals. Plus, the team risks losing the integral defender with no compensation if he plays out the 2014 year without a new deal.
Figure out What to Do with Chris Houston
Cornerback Chris Houston's lingering toe problem is a potential big problem for the Lions.
Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Houston finally opted to have surgery on his injured toe on Monday. Houston actually broke the news himself by posting a picture form his hospital bed.
The injury definitely impacted the veteran corner's play in 2013. He ranked 97th in Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) cornerback pass coverage ratings. Offseason rest proved ineffective, forcing the surgery.
There is no timetable yet on Houston's recovery, and that clouds the offseason picture in the secondary. The Lions have a cadre of young corners gunning for more playing time, notably Darius Slay and Chris Greenwood.
Detroit may have tipped its hand by bringing back veteran Rashean Mathis, who started much of last season and was the team's best corner. He's a valuable insurance policy against Houston not being able to get back to full speed.
The coaching stuff must decide whether to hold the starting spot for Houston or allow open competition on the field to resolve the depth chart.
Of course, there's no guarantee he will ever recover. The same injury essentially ended Deion Sanders' illustrious career. A very detailed breakdown of the injury and how it felled Sanders can be found here, courtesy Pro Rehab PC.
Install and Teach the New Defense
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin (pictured) is bringing a different style of defense to the Lions. The former Ravens secondary coach has some schematic tweaks to the base 4-2-5 Detroit ran under Jim Schwartz.
Foremost will be using three linebackers as the base defense, something the Lions did about a third of the time in 2013. Adding Kyle Van Noy in the second round of the draft provides Austin with the versatile chess piece needed to keep three backers on the field.
Over the weekend, the Lions offered a glimpse into how Austin's defense will look, as reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
Lions are going to play closed end/opened up with DL .. more physical DE on TE side of line of scrimmage.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 11, 2014
That means the team will do more adjusting to the offense than what it did under Schwartz and deposed defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Figuring out who that physical defensive end will be, and how the linebackers adjust behind him, are things the Lions will ascertain in upcoming camps and meetings.
Check out the Newest Lions
The Lions hold their first rookie camp this coming weekend. It will be the first time the coaches see the new additions in Honolulu blue.
First impressions are important, but that is a two-way street. This is the initial opportunity for the new coaching staff to establish its tone. You can bet the veterans are watching closely.
This is also an opportunity for the team to see how the new pieces fit together. While it's pretty clear the Lions have a plan for high draft picks like Ebron and Travis Swanson, the later-round players like Larry Webster (pictured) and the undrafted free agents are all a bit of a mystery, even to the coaches.
Two of the undrafted guys to watch are James Franklin and Cornelius Lucas.
Franklin is a quarterback from Missouri who offers a stark contrast to Kellen Moore in the third/developmental quarterback slot. He's an artful dodger with a strong right arm, a player who could have been drafted had he not suffered a litany of injuries in 2013.
His ability to emulate opposing mobile quarterbacks in practice gives him a real chance to bump Moore from the roster. Here's a thorough scouting report on Franklin from National Football Post.
Lucas is a giant offensive tackle out of Kansas State. If you're looking for a hint as to how the Lions feel about him, consider this:
A couple signing bonuses for #Lions UDFAs: OG A.J. Dalton got $2,500, TE Jacob Maxwell got $3k and OT Cornelius Lucas got $20k— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 11, 2014
Notice the discrepancy there? That rather large bonus for Lucas is an indication that the Lions have pretty high expectations for the 6'9" behemoth.
Start Preparation for the 2015 NFL Draft
It's hard to fathom right now, but the NFL draft never sleeps.
Even in the afterglow of the 2014 event, the Lions' scouting staff is already embarking on doing groundwork for the 2015 version.
They are establishing watch lists and organizing the information they already have on prominent collegians like Oregon corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (pictured). For players who really intrigue them—and hopefully the talented Duck is one of them—they will break down some film and establish an early baseline evaluation.
Scouts will also talk to the new Lions and ask them about any players they feel might merit closer looks. Be it opponents who impressed or teammates they know well, the new players offer a nice source of information.
Remember, the Lions drafted Ezekiel Ansah's former BYU roommate in Kyle Van Noy. You can bet the scouting staff probed Ansah for useful tidbits on his fellow Cougar.
This is the time where scouting departments can really set themselves up for success with preseason diligence and organization. The Lions are already hard at work on the 2015 draft.