Detroit Lions' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
It's been a busy offseason for general manager Martin Mayhew (pictured) and his Detroit Lions staff. Yet they still have some work to do between now and the onset of training camp.
There have been some tough decisions, like cutting Louis Delmas and refusing to pick up Nick Fairley's contract option.
There have also been some great moves, such as signing Golden Tate and locking up Joique Bell.
While much of the focus is on the 2014 NFL draft, there are some lingering tasks to complete. The draft will certainly play a part in resolving some of these issues as well.
Here is what remains on Mayhew's plate, aside from draft preparations, over the next few weeks.
A Contract Extension for Ndamukong Suh
The elephant in the room at team headquarters in Allen Park is the protracted contract extension talks with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Those talks predate the Super Bowl. Bleacher Report's own Zach Kruse sagely opined on the subject back in January.
Some, such as Yahoo's Brian McIntyre, even broached the importance of extending the All-Pro last summer.
Through various curves in the road—Suh's prolonged agent search, signing and releasing of other players, the death of the team owner—the two sides have yet to reach an accord.
Because of that failure, the Lions are hamstrung with very little money to spend. Per Spotrac, they have just $1.7 million left under the cap.
That's not even enough to cover the rookie draft class, which Over the Cap estimates as $2.97 million.
Suh holds the key. A restructure would free up millions in cap room by spreading out his sizable salary over several seasons.
But as Kevin Patra of NFL.com reports, there is seemingly little urgency from the Lions thus far. Patra does note the possibility that Detroit team president Tom Lewand could simply be using a negotiating ploy: "In reality he can't be anything but measured, as Suh holds almost all the bargaining power. If Lewand were to claim it was imperative that a deal were done soon, it would only add to the defensive tackle's leverage."
Until the two sides reach an agreement on a new deal, there is very little the Lions can do from a personnel perspective. They've already trimmed quite a bit of salary-cap fat. Any more cuts would start to butcher the on-field product.
Find a Viable Third Linebacker
There has been a recent barrage of reporting about the need for Detroit to add a third linebacker. From Tim Twentyman on the official team website, to Kyle Meinke at MLive to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, many people have riffed on the same theme.
This is not a coincidence.
Under previous coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions base defense was a 4-2-5, with just two linebackers and three cornerbacks. The third linebacker, Ashlee Palmer, played 367 of a possible 1,067 defensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The third cornerback role, which was filled by a combination of Bill Bentley and Darius Slay, played 851 snaps. That's more than double the amount of snaps that Palmer took.
That is going to change under the new coaching staff.
Palmer remains on the roster, as does Tahir Whitehead. Yet the player the team wants, the "flamethrower" that Jim Caldwell is looking for in the above articles, is not currently in Detroit.
There are limited options in free agency. James Harrison, a 35-year-old coming off a year with just two sacks who played essentially the same role in Cincinnati, is the best option on the market right now.
Guys like O'Brien Schofield, Erin Henderson and Stephen Nicholas are not likely the answer, either.
Detroit will have several options in the draft.
Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr should get consideration at the No. 10 overall pick. Mack is widely projected to be long gone, but Barr could be available. I explored his Detroit potential in March.
Kyle Van Noy, Demarcus Lawrence and Jeremiah Attaochu offer potential in the second round with the 45th overall pick. While Van Noy could be gone, the others might be available. They have been listed in mock drafts in that range, including recently by Walter Football.
In the third round, options include Carl Bradford, Jordan Tripp and Trevor Reilly. All are considered second- or third-round prospects by CBSSports.com.
Expect the Lions to address the position—the last remaining starting spot open at this point—before the end of the draft's second day.
Adding Another Receiving Weapon
Adding Golden Tate in free agency to play opposite Calvin Johnson (pictured) was a stroke of brilliance. It took $31 million to make it happen, but that should prove to be money well-spent.
Yet there is still a pressing need for a third wideout—one who represents an upgrade over ineffective Kris Durham and chronically injured Ryan Broyles.
Unless the aforementioned Suh situation gets resolved quickly, free agency is not an option. That leaves the draft.
Here are some realistic wideout options for each of the first four rounds of what is universally lauded as an outstanding and deep wide receiver draft class:
|First Round||Mike Evans||Sammy Watkins|
|Second Round||Kelvin Benjamin||Davante Adams||Marqise Lee|
|Third Round||Jordan Matthews||Jarvis Landry||Donte Moncrief|
|Fourth Round||Robert Herron||Kevin Norwood||Josh Huff||Cody Latimer|
Because both Tate and Johnson have proven versatility, the Lions don't have to worry about pigeonholing their search to a specific type of player.
The Lions have many options here. Picking just one is the difficult part.
Find a Reserve Quarterback
With longtime backup quarterback Shaun Hill (pictured) now in St. Louis, Detroit has just two signal-callers on the roster.
There is no competition for the starting gig; Matthew Stafford is the franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. The No. 2 spot is a different story.
Backup Kellen Moore has never taken a regular-season snap in his two years. While the undrafted free agent from Boise State did show improvement in the '13 preseason, his presence does not exactly inspire confidence.
Now numerous sources, including Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, are reporting that the Lions are working on a deal to bring back Dan Orlovsky:
His most memorable career moment came as a member of the winless 2008 Lions, when he ran out of the back of the end zone while being chased by Jared Allen of the Vikings. The safety cost the Lions their best shot at a win in that historically wretched campaign.
Orlovsky has bounced around from Houston to Indianapolis to Tampa Bay since his Detroit tenure. His stint in Indy came with Jim Caldwell as his head coach and included the only two wins for the Colts in 2011.
Even if Orlovsky signs, the Lions could still bring in another quarterback. A late-round developmental project like Dustin Vaughan or Keith Wenning needs to remain a strong consideration. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press concurs:
I know Mayhew has spoken positively of Kellen Moore this offseason, but wouldn't be a surprise if #Lions drafted a QB late.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) April 2, 2014
No doubt the team is evaluating its options for the third quarterback spot.
Continue to Establish a New Culture
This has been a tumultuous offseason for Detroit, an organization that has had a nice run of stability in recent times.
Much of the coaching staff, notably head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, were fired after the collapse from 6-3 to 7-9 last season. Schwartz coached the team for five seasons, which is a fairly long tenure in the modern NFL.
The Lions jettisoned two strong, veteran leaders in wideout Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas in cost-cutting moves.
Then there was the death of longtime owner William Clay Ford, who bought the team in 1964. His passing cast a shadow over the onset of free agency.
Now the Lions are looking to establish a new culture with new leadership.
Jim Caldwell and coordinators Teryl Austin and Joe Lombardi will bring their own wrinkles and distinct personalities to the team.
New majority owner Martha Ford succeeds her late husband in that role. Yet Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes that their son Bill Jr. figures to take a more expansive role with the organization.
With these changes, the Lions have an opportunity to continue to forge changes. Choosing the calm, reserved Caldwell to replace the bombastic Schwartz is a dramatic turn toward a different type of team.
Bill Ford Jr. has been a more hands-on presence than his late father. In Birkett's piece, center Dominic Raiola had this to say about Ford Jr.:
I don’t (think) he’s making all the football decisions, but I think he’s more hands-on with the decisions. He still lets the football guys make those decisions; the GMs and what not. I’ve had more of a personal relationship with him and I think he’s going to do a great job, if that is the case that he takes over.
As the players get to know the new coaches, and new leaders emerge from the mix of returning veterans and new additions like James Ihedigbo and Golden Tate, expect the Lions to continue to emerge as a familiar but somewhat reshaped organization moving forward.
Part of what the team needs to accomplish over the next few weeks is getting all these new faces and attitudes harmoniously unified and pointing in the same direction.
All stats, transaction information and combine results are from NFL.com unless otherwise indicated.
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