Fact or Fiction with the Latest Lions News Ahead of the Start of Free Agency

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IMarch 3, 2014

Fact or Fiction with the Latest Lions News Ahead of the Start of Free Agency

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    It's that time of year again. Speculation season has begun!

    The time between the NFL Scouting Combine and the beginning of free agency is often a period rife with rumors. It's a time where football fans are all fired up, but there's nothing really going on. 

    Idle time leads to idle speculation. Be it agents planting seeds with willing media stooges, radio hosts and bloggers throwing spaghetti at the wall to their audiences or simply folks trying to put one and one together, rumors often fly.

    This year has been a little more subdued for the Detroit Lions in the rumor mill. Some of that is attributable to the fact the team had very little cap room before the recent bump and it just wasn't seen as a potential buyer for anyone but the lowest tier of free agents.

    Still, there is chatter surrounding the Lions worth exploring. Is it fact or fiction? While it's too early to be certain, here is an early guide on the validity of the speculation out there.

Brandon Pettigrew Will Be Back

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    When this news broke late last week...

    Salary cap projected to rise to about $133 million this year, expected to break $140 million next year and $150 million by 2016, per source

    — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 28, 2014

    ...one of the concepts that immediately sprung up surrounding the Lions was that some of that newfound cap room would go to bring back tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

    The former starter, now a free agent, was generally not considered a priority. But now with more room to spend, some postulate the money could go to bring back the former first-rounder. As Justin Rogers of MLive.com notes:

    With the added cap space, Detroit will be able to pursue its goals in free agency, whether that's re-signing its own players, such as tight end Brandon Pettigrew and defensive end Willie Young.

    One mitigating circumstance is that free-agent tight end Dennis Pitta re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens for five years and $32 million, according to ESPN

    Pettigrew can rightfully ask for a similar type of contract. If he does, there's no chance he returns to Detroit. 

    The only way he comes back is if he cannot find a lucrative deal like Pitta's elsewhere and opts to return to Detroit for a shorter, cheaper deal.

    Verdict: Fiction

The Lions Will Actively Pursue a Safety

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    After releasing longtime starter Louis Delmas last month, the Lions have a glaring hole at one safety spot.

    While the team did quietly re-sign valued backup Don Carey and claimed Isa Abdul-Quddus off waivers from the New Orleans Saints, it's safe to assume that the player who will start at safety opposite Glover Quin is not currently on Detroit's roster.

    Many believe the Lions will sign a free agent to fill the void, much as they did a year ago when they imported Quin.

    As Tim Twentyman of the official Lions website notes, some of the early names expected to garner interest from Detroit include:

    • James Ihedigbo (pictured), last with the Ravens
    • Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins
    • Malcolm Jenkins, Saints

    Ihedigbo played under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Baltimore last season and is coming off his best year. That's an easy connection to make, and his price tag shouldn't be too steep.

    Jenkins is a familiar face as well, as new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi saw him every day in practice in New Orleans the last few years.

    Another name with familiarity is Antoine Bethea, who played under head coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis:

    @twinsimon keep an eye on two former Caldwell players, James Ihedigbo and Antoine Bethea

    — LionsDraft (@DraftLions) February 25, 2014

    It's hard to pin down which name ultimately winds up in Detroit, but it would be more surprising if the Lions don't sign a starting safety than if they do.

    Verdict: Fact

Hakeem Nicks to the Motor City

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the few actual names to be widely speculated to the Lions is former New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks.

    As Elliot Harrison of NFL.com wrote recently, Nicks to Detroit does make some sense.

    It's worth pointing out that the Philadelphia Eagles' re-signing of Riley Cooper, another potential Lions target, perhaps changed the market dynamics.

    Cooper signed in Philly for five years and $25 million. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press noted:

    But in a deep crop of free agent receivers, none of whom is considered No. 1-caliber, Cooper's five-year, $25-million contract will be used as a measuring stick in the coming weeks.

    Why does that matter to the Lions in pursuit of Hakeem Nicks? Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News sums it up succinctly:

    In 2013: Hakeem Nicks, in a bad year, had 56 catches for 896 yards. Riley Cooper, in his best year, had 47 catches for 835 yards ...

    — Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) February 27, 2014

    If the Lions are truly interested in Nicks, it's a good thing that salary-cap bump is kicking in. Cooper's deal might inflate the market rate for wideouts to where the Lions and Nicks would have to agree to a shorter, more incentive-laden deal.

    Other wideouts in the same tier include James Jones, Andre Roberts and Golden Tate, as noted in Birkett's piece. 

    The Lions are almost universally expected to pursue at least one wide receiver in free agency. It would not be a surprise if they signed one of the players listed here.

    Nicks carries some risk in coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued campaign. However, that could play into his—and the Lions'—favor. Detroit presents him an opportunity to put up big numbers in a pass-heavy offense, and Nicks' style and price tag could make him a perfect fit.

    Verdict: Some fact, but fiction until proven otherwise

The Lions Will Sign a New Backup Quarterback

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    With veteran Shaun Hill a free agent who is not expected back in Detroit, the No. 2 spot behind Matthew Stafford is open.

    Detroit could be open for business in trying to fill that vacancy. Third-year pro Kellen Moore, who has never been active for a regular-season contest, is the only other quarterback on the roster.

    As MLive.com notes, one free agent to keep an eye on is Chad Henne.

    The former Jacksonville Jaguars and Dolphins quarterback offers starting experience. He also has a stronger arm than Moore, which would help make his insertion into the offense more seamless.

    He's listed as the fifth-best free-agent arm on the market per NFL.com:

    Free Agent QB Rankings (via @NFL_ATL): 1. Michael Vick 3. Josh Freeman 5. Chad Henne Full List: http://t.co/Z9DWJlyWvK

    — NFL (@nfl) March 1, 2014

    Henne went to college at Michigan, so he does have some ties to the Detroit area. He doesn't figure to command a big salary.

    Other options include Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn and Kellen Clemens. Signing one of these guys to handle the backup duties is safer than relying on greater improvement from Moore or trying a later-round rookie in the same role.

    Verdict: Fact (hopefully)