Detroit Lions Free Agency: Keep, Walk or Tag Options for Every Free Agent
From former first rounders to backup quarterbacks, the Detroit Lions have plenty of decisions to make regarding their unrestricted free agents.
With the disappointing 1-6 slide to end the season, it's easy to forget that this was a talented team. Cleaning out all the dead weight will take some actual evaluation, as opposed to sweeping everyone out the door.
Also, once a coaching staff is in place, the team will know which way it's headed schematically, but it's unlikely that general manager Martin Mayhew's decisions will be dramatically different regardless of system.
This offseason represents a chance for the Lions to start fresh—to take that next step toward consistent-contender status—and it all starts with the decisions regarding who to let go, who to resign and who to slap with the franchise tag.
For decisions regarding restricted free agents and exclusive-rights free agents, click here.
All rankings and advanced metrics are courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com, which requires a subscription.
All contract and salary cap details are sourced from spotrac.com.
Quarterback Shaun Hill
The most popular man in Detroit is either the Lions' backup quarterback or the Red Wings' backup goalie. It's a grass-is-always-greener outlook. We can't help it.
So you can rest assured that the fans want Shaun Hill back. There were even pockets of followers who called for him to start instead of the struggling Matthew Stafford in the season's final weeks.
While I never subscribed to that theory, I am on board with having a capable backup. Trusting the backup job to Kellen Moore, who hasn't played a single regular-season snap, would be foolhardy at best.
Hill is a fringe starter for some teams and possibly the most reliable second-stringer in the league. During his four years in Detroit, he's never completed less than 61.8 percent of his passes and has tossed 18 touchdowns against 12 picks. He provides a comfort blanket should Stafford miss a snap, which didn't happen in 2013.
And it helps that he "wouldn't be opposed" to another term in Detroit, according to ESPN's Michael Rothstein.
Wide Receiver Kevin Ogletree
The question isn't so clear on Kevin Ogletree.
He was part of a group that led the league in dropped passes, making every wide receiver that isn't named Johnson expendable. His four drops (three with Tampa Bay) with only 21 receptions lends more credence to his dismissal.
He had only one during his seven-game stint in Detroit, though. He also had a touchdown and, when featured in the final game, forced three missed tackles en route to 75 yards on five catches.
The Lions will add an Alshon Jeffery opposite Calvin's Brandon Marshall, but Ogletree still has value as a fourth receiver, and he should come cheaply.
Kicker David Akers
Neither new coach or new scheme will save kicker David Akers. His walking papers were signed in December when the Lions worked out a few kickers, including the fan favorite "Kickalicious" (Harvard Rugland).
It's been awkward watching him trot out there for weeks now. The only thing worse than having a shaky job situation is having everyone know about it.
He's a career 81 percent kicker who's lost the confidence of two consecutive coaching staffs. There aren't a lot of opportunities for specialists in that situation, and he'll need to make the most out of any chance he gets; however, that chance won't be with the Lions. It's time to move on.
Defensive End Willie Young
The Lions are currently sitting $2 million over the cap, according to spotrac.com, and that's before you factor in a new Joique Bell deal and all of the rookies that have to be signed.
Adding a middle-tier free agent will be difficult under the current circumstances. Whenever Mayhew extends Ndamukong Suh's contract, some instant cap room will be available, but there are a lot of moves that have to be made that will eat up most of that space.
That probably leaves Willie Young on the hunt for a new home.
The defensive end had a breakout season. He graded as the 16th best 4-3 defensive end while racking up 48 quarterback hurries, eight quarterback hits and four sacks. In fact, he created 20 more pressures than former Lion Cliff Avril, who essentially made $5 million more than Young this season.
That's a lot of cash the team doesn't have, especially since Detroit could be switching defensive schemes under new leadership.
Offensive Tackle Jason Fox
The knee-jerk reaction is to let offensive tackle Jason Fox explore his options, and you don't have to research too deeply to figure out why. Just type Jason Fox into a Google image search and look for a picture of him playing in a game for the Lions.
Spoiler Alert: You have to scroll two-thirds of the way down the page before you'll find one.
If you can't get on the field, your potential has a sharply declining value. There's no doubt the Lions shouldn't ink Fox to a multi-year deal.
They should let him come back to training camp on a one-year, small-money deal. He's never going to crack the starting lineup, but injury depth is key. In 2013 alone, Detroit had three different right tackles, including Fox, log at least 200 snaps.
If he's a training camp casualty, so be it. Mayhew will be out presumably nothing on the 2014 cap, and finding someone with more talent to take Fox's spot on the expanded preseason roster could prove frustrating.
Long Snapper Don Muhlbach
Let's not debate this point too much. When you have someone who can handle a specialized duty with consistent quality work, you keep him around.
Nobody notices a long snapper until he screws up. That's why you probably haven't heard of Don Muhlbach.
Just resign him to another one-year deal for less than a million and move on.
Offensive Guard Dylan Gandy
Offensive guard Dylan Gandy finds himself in much the same position as his linemate Fox, except that he's six years older.
He wasn't counted on to play much this year, and, since he's 31 years old, he certainly isn't someone who will eventually replace Rob Sims.
Gandy is capable of providing some veteran depth, but he will have to fight his way onto the roster in training camp against younger, possibly hungrier guys. Considering he won't have the edge over the fresh blood because everyone's experience within the system will be equal, there's little hope that Gandy will make the active roster next season.
Center Dominic Raiola
A raging debate will center around Dominic Raiola's future with Detroit.
You're damn right I love puns. Deal with it.
And deal with the supposedly declining Raiola coming back next year. Again, a new coaching staff could have different feelings, but there's enough left in Raiola's tank to bring him back on a one- or two-year deal.
Raiola finished the season second in Pro Football Focus' position rankings and led an inexperienced unit to rousing success in their first season together. Raiola occasionally falls victim to his intensity, and that might be a link to the past that a new head coach won't appreciate. Without a viable replacement on the roster, talent might win out temporarily.
Defensive End Israel Idonije
Israel Idonije was brought in last year to provide depth on the outside of the defensive line and provide some pressure when he rotated in.
He did fine. Not good, not bad, but fine.
He finished the season with 22 quarterback hurries, which helped cover up his single sack and five quarterback hits. Other than his return to Chicago—when he got in Jay Cutler's face five times—though, there weren't any memorable Idonije moments.
There won't be much of a market for the 33-year-old defensive end. If the Lions don't change from the 4-3 and have a few injuries in camp, Idonije might get a call. Otherwise, he'll probably get scooped up by someone else late in the preseason.
Defensive Tackle Andre Fluellen
Andre Fluellen knows well the route upon which Idonije is about to embark. He did it last year.
Fluellen was brought back into the fold in September for depth, and he will likely re-enter the league-wide injury-depth pool once again without a solid offer until someone goes down.
He rarely saw the field (170 snaps) and failed to do much of anything when out there (five hurries). His training-camp spot would be better reserved for a young guy trying to prove himself.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis
The last two out-of-work players can take heart. There is one guy who took an injury-replacement shot and created a solid case to be brought back.
In a season of incompetency at corner, Rashean Mathis was a buried treasure.
Mathis ended the season as Detroit's highest-graded cornerback and was certainly the most trusted. He failed to record an interception, but his impact was obvious to everyone.
Maybe Chris Houston can regain his former decent cornerback status. Maybe Darius Slay will turn out to be a solid complement. But neither pose a better option than Mathis right now.
Linebacker Rocky McIntosh
The Lions aren't particularly deep at linebacker, which could be a real position of need if the defense switches over to a 3-4.
Rocky McIntosh played quite sparingly. He only managed five tackles in 41 snaps this year.
He was a thundering presence in short-yardage situations, though. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if three or four of those tackles were the result of stonewalling the opponent during a game-changing moment.
Mayhew could easily cut him, but he has value as a backup linebacker.
Safety John Wendling
One of the bright spots of the season were the coverage units. Detroit's special teamers were dutiful about staying in their lanes, thus not exposing themselves to big plays.
John Wendling was a huge part of that.
He did well with kickoffs, but his positive 4.5 grade on punts and 15 total special-team tackles really set him apart.
Assuming he comes relatively cheaply, Wendling's status with the team shouldn't be an issue.
Wide Receiver Micheal Spurlock
There's not a lot to say here.
Wide receiver/return specialist Micheal Spurlock didn't make it through the regular season. He lost his job to Jeremy Ross, was cut, picked up by the Cowboys and then cut loose again.
Even the most ardent fan might not know he was brought back for the last game of the season, but it doesn't matter. Ross has the spot locked up.
Tight End Brandon Pettigrew
No player exemplified the Jim Schwartz era of unreliable talent more than tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
He was expected to grow with fellow 2009 first rounder Matthew Stafford. Pettigrew was to play the roles of security blanket, red-zone threat and durable blocker.
That didn't happen.
Pettigrew peaked like the rest of the Lions in 2011, hauling in 83 passes and five touchdowns. In 2013, he failed to produce half of those numbers (41 receptions, 2 TDs), while still dropping four balls.
Mayhew would be smart to let the market dictate Pettigrew's worth, unless he's willing to take a no-team-risk contract that would allow him to be cut without a cap hit.
Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams will be able to handle many of his duties, so the Lions' need for his services might not rise to the level of his contract demand.
Brandon Alisoglu has been covering the Detroit Lions for three years. He has been published on Yahoo!, Bleacher Report, CNN and other websites. He also co-hosts a podcast called Lions Central Radio with Nick Kostora that can be found on ITunes, YouTube and Stitcher.
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