Detroit Lions Free Agency 2011: 5 Bargain Players the Detroit Lions Could Target
Every NFL team would love to sign a player like Nnamdi Asomugha, and every year there is that one superstar free agent who would improve any team. In 2009 it was Albert Haynesworth. Last year it was Julius Peppers. However, not every team can afford to play someone $18 million a season, and that is where those third and fourth tier free agents become so valuable. These are the guys I am looking to highlight in this article.
For whatever reason, they have been undervalued. It may be for lack of playing time, the wrong scheme or injury history, but regardless they can be the steals that catapult a team to relevance in no time at all.
There are two conditions to fit the bill as a bargain free agent. Firstly, the player must not cost that much. While this is relative depending on the position, it really means that they are not one of the top two or three players in their position group. The second is that they have to be an unrestricted free agent. Regardless of how cheap he is, if the Lions have to give up high draft picks to get him the unseen cost would be dangerous to a rebuilding franchise. Other than that, a place on this list is up for grabs.
Scott Mruczkowski (C): San Diego Chargers
His name is a mouthful and he has only started 15 games in his six year career. Why then, should the Lions be looking seriously into acquiring this former San Diego Charger as a replacement for incumbent Dominic Raiola?
Firstly, for the majority of his career he has been blocked from playing by All-Pro centre Nick Hardwick. However, when Hardwick went down with injury in 2010 Mruczkowski came in and played very well in 15 starts. Also, at 315 lbs, he has the requisite size to deal with nose tackles against 3-4 defenses which has become so prevalent in the NFL now. This would be especially sweet for fans after a year of seeing the undersized Raiola struggle with 330+ lbs behemoths.
As a player, Mruczkowski is best when run blocking. He ha solid technique and uses his bulk to drive back defenders. In the passing game, he has struggled with fast and agile defensive tackles but in general can deal with most pass rushers. Also, practising against defensive tackles like Suh and Fairley is sure to improve his performance against three technique tackles.
As for the cost, a centre, which is traditionally a lowly paid position, who has not been a consistent starter so far in a six year career is not going to get a lot of calls. The Lions should definitely look at him in the shortened free agency.
Josh Wilson (CB): Baltimore Ravens
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Josh Wilson was a no name prior to last season, but after moving to Baltimore he performed better than expected, and put his name on the map. Nevertheless, the Ravens are unlikely to resign him after drafting Jimmy Smith. They also have a bevy of other options at cornerback including the talented Ladarius Webb who is looking better every day.
Wilson would also not break the bank because of the attention that bigger names like Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, Cromartie and Ike Taylor will draw early in the abridged free agency. The Lions could probably slip in and sign Wilson while other richer clubs fight in the Asomugha sweepstakes. Also, because Wilson did not grab a lot of interceptions in 2010 he did not make as big a splash as his play deserved.
As a player, Wilson would be the best cornerback on the Lions roster immediately. He is a blazer who ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at the NFL combine in 2007 and is very strong and physical despite his 5'9" frame. This physicality also makes him a good tackling cornerback who plays the run better than most. Also, although he is short, he has a good leap and timing which allows him to makes plays against taller wide receivers. He can also play both in the slot and out wide, and that versatility is very valuable.
In coverage, he is good in both man and zone coverage, and while he does not have really fluid hips his athleticism allows him to change directions fast enough to play against the best in the league. At 26 years of age, it is also arguable that his best is yet to come.
An added bonus is his return skills. While Stefan Logan has cemented his spot here, it cannot hurt to have options, and it means he is lethal when he gets the ball in his hands.
Quincy Black (LB): Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the other linebacker who will feature in this slideshow, Quincy Black is a talented and young player who is likely to be squeezed out of his team because of the money spent on their linebackers. The Buccaneers already have Geno Hayes under contract, and will be looking to resign Barrett Ruud and Mason Foster in this offseason. However, with all the big name linebackers on the market, a young playmaker who is just starting to get game time at Tampa Bay will not be of the highest priority to most teams.
Black would be able to play either outside linebacker position for the Lions, however the more natural fit would be on the weakside where is ability to play in space and his speed could be best put to use. This would fill a need for the Lions and add some real athleticism to the linebackers.
Quincy Black is possibly one of the fastest and most athletic linebackers in the entire league. He ran a 4.4 40 dash at the combine and shows great ability to play in coverage and tackle from sideline to sideline. He also is a very consistent and solid tackler who can really blow up ball carriers.
However, he does not excel playing power football inside the box because of his lack of extreme power. He also does not have great instincts which is a major red flag for a linebacker. However, he can make up for his lack of position with his speed, and with time he is likely to improve this and become an elite outside linebacker.
The Lions would be much improved by adding Black to their roster. He would improve the Lions starting defensive and allow Doug Houge and Ashlee Palmer to develop further before being pressed into action.
James Anderson (LB): Carolina Panthers
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James Anderson is probably one of the most underrated linebackers in the league right now, but the Panthers could find it hard to keep him given the money they have tied up in the linebacker corps with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. For this reason, he is likely to hit the open market. Also, because of linebackers like Stephen Tulloch, Paul Posluszny and Takeo Spikes, Anderson is unlikely to be the first port of call for many teams. This gives the Lions an advantage.
Anderson's effect on the Lions would be great. Firstly, he could man both outside linebacker positions. He played strongside last season for the Panthers, but arguably given his size, athleticism and skill set might play better on the weakside. He would provide another quality player to assist the development of DeAndre Levy as well. Also, as an all-round linebacker who can cover, play the run and blitz he would provide great versatility to the Lions front seven.
As a player, Anderson is a jack of all trade who is not truly great at any. He is blessed with great athleticism, but also has good awareness which allows him to be around the ball almost all the time. He is also proficient in coverage, and can utilise his speed to be a dangerous blitzer.
His real weakness is his lack of great power. This means that he struggles when playing inside and when he has to take on blocks head on. This is the reason why he may actually be better suited for the weak side of the defense.
The Lions will have a lot of pull on linebackers this free agency. They can offer a starting spot to most players and can provide a truly elite defensive line to play behind. This should help convince Anderson to come play in Detroit.
Michael Huff (FS): Oakland Raiders
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The former seventh overall pick from the 2006 NFL draft took a long time to make good on his talent, but after putting together a couple of good seasons and earning a second team All-Pro selection in what is likely to be his final season in Oakland. However, despite his recent success, it is unlikely that the Raiders will bring him back because of their salary cap issues. Furthermore, because of the low value generally attributed to safeties, and the presence of other top safeties like Daniel Manning, Eric Weddle and Quintin Mikkel on the free market will lower Huff's value to a bargain range.
Secondly, as a player he would provide the Lions with a top coverage safety to pair with Louis Delmas, who has been shown up in coverage a bit so far in his career. Huff excelled in 2010 in coverage. His rare athleticism and sub 4.4 speed gives him great closing speed and also means he can cover wide receivers man to man. Also, while not a really powerful hitter, he is good in run support and is a good blitzer.
His main weaknesses are his football IQ and his ball hawking ability. He has not made a lot of interceptions in his career, and this can be attributed to his lack of great awareness. Although he can make up for this most of the time with his speed, it means he is not often in great position when the ball is thrown.
Huff would be a good young addition to the Lions defense. At only 28 he has one contract left of good play, and he is likely to only improve as he continues improving his awareness on the field. He would also benefit from playing with the Lions defense that puts a lot of pressure on the passer.