Monday, January 31, 2011

Free Agency: LIONS version

Although they are almost over the hump, the Detroit Lions are still rebuilding. There are a lot of players the Lions have acquired in the past through the draft. A lot of them are either not on the team, aren’t in the NFL, or were complete busts. Last year we drafted starters like Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best. In 2009 we drafted stars Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew. So, there is promise in recent players the Lions have drafted. But the front office is still trying to catch up after Matt Millen wrecked the organization.

Last off-season, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz signed key free agents (Nate Burleson, Kyle Vanden Bosh, Corey Williams, Shaun Hill) and made good trades (Chris Houston, Tony Scheffler, Rob Sims, Alphonso Smith) and waiver pick ups (Stefan Logan, Nathan Vasher) to improve their roster.

To build an organization that will be able to beat the elite teams in the NFL, make a playoff run (let alone make the playoffs for the first time since 1999) and possibly go to the franchise’s first Super Bowl, we have to sign, sign, and sign players that will get this team to the next level. This includes keeping the key players you already have and signing new free agents instead of relying solely on a draft. We all know that just because you draft a player doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to make a positive impact.

Here are the current Free Agents on the roster:

Unrestricted FAs
C. C. Brown SS
Jared DeVries DE
Bobby Carpenter OLB
Vinny Ciurciu ILB
Brian Clark WR
Dylan Gandy C
Tye Hill CB
Chris Houston CB
Landon Johnson OLB
Eric King CB
Turk McBride DE
Brandon McDonald CB
Dave Rayner K
Drew Stanton QB
Nathan Vasher CB
John Wendling FS

Restricted FAs
Cliff Avril DE
Jerome Felton FB
Andre Fluellen DT
Kevin Smith RB

Exclusive-Rights FAs
Korey Bosworth OLB
Caleb Campbell OLB
Zack Follett OLB
Corey Hilliard OT
Stefan Logan WR
Prince Miller CB
Jake Nordin FB
Ashlee Palmer OLB
Randy Phillips FS
Paul Pratt CB
Barry Turner DE

Cliff Avril, the most important free agent on the Lions' roster
The big names I want to return and should return are most importantly Cliff Avril and Stefan Logan. Avril has said via his twitter account that a deal is going to happen. Logan is an exclusive rights FA so he should be back (we would be stupid to let him go anywhere). Neither should cost the Lions that much money. At the corner position, Chris Houston did well as the #1 corner. If we can add some more talent at that position (which is our highest need), he would be more effective. He said he wants to test the market, but who knows. I think Bobby Carpenter, Landon Johnson and Ashlee Palmer have earned spots on this team; maybe not as starters, but are good depth guys. The only true starting LB on the roster is DeAndre Levy (Lions have said they will release Julian Peterson). Zack Follett may not play again but the Lions will probably sign him to a small deal and put him on IR. 

Depending on who we draft, you could see the return of Turk McBride or Andre Fluellen. Jerome Felton said that the Lions need to use him more on the field or he wants out of Detroit. That is a pretty bold statement for a fullback. He probably should have thought about playing a different position if he is going to complain about his usage. I feel that he is used a lot, but I assume he wants more carries. Good luck with that. 

Nathan Vasher could return as a depth corner. He impressed late in the year and was a very late waiver pick up. John Wendling was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate for his special teams play and should return, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. Randy Phillips is a guy I liked as an Undrafted Free Agent. Will he return for a second go? 

Dave Rayner helped us win games, period. The game-winning field goal in Tampa Bay sealed the deal for me. Sign him. You cannot rely on Jason Hanson at his age. He is a great kicker. You can put him on the practice squad next year if you have to, but I would keep him around. 

I am pretty sure you have seen the end of Drew Stanton, Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli’s high draft pick. Lastly, Kevin Smith. What to do with him? The man who almost broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA regular season rushing record has battled injuries. Will they give him one last shot? I say yes, at a cheap price. But if you can get someone through free agency or the draft (Mark Ingram? Just throwing it out there that it could be an option), then no.

This is basically a brainstorm. Of course it depends on whom we draft. But the draft also depends on whom we sign. Most importantly, there won’t be any deals until the NFL and NFLPA stop bickering and sign a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Here are some of the top FA’s the Lions could and should target:

DeAngelo Williams, RB.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB.
Ricky Williams, RB
If Felton does not return (who can be replaced easily, I believe) we need a back with power to go with Jahvid Best’s unstoppable speed along with the use of Logan on special plays. Maurice Morris filled in well and will Smith return?

Mike-Sims Walker, WR
Ben Obomanu, WR: The only reason he is on my list is because the Lions have grabbed a lot of former Seahawks through trades and Nate Burleson in 2010 through FA.
Mark Clayton, WR

LaMarr Woodley, LB: He will probably stay in Pittsburgh. Plus, if we bring back Johnson, Palmer and draft Akeem Ayers or Bruce Carter early, we won’t need to go there in free agency. I will go deeper into the draft at a different time. But I think it is a deep draft for the linebacker position.

Here is the important position. Cornerback.

Champ Bailey
Nnamdi Asomugha
Antonio Cromartie
William Gay
Darren Sharper (Safety)

Like I said before, we should try and bring back Houston and Vasher. Bailey seems like a guy that would come here and give some leadership and a big improvement to the secondary. But Asomugha would be the best possible player to get besides Patrick Peterson in the draft. A big price tag may come but rumors have it that he is a player Ndamukong Suh was trying to “recruit” Sunday at the Pro Bowl. Go after him. That ways we can go linebacker and offensive line first. Be aware of the salary cap as well. If we do sign a corner we should draft one anyway. We need all the help we can get.

This is all a “wait and see.” Free agency can decide whom we need to draft, and after the draft we can still go after the players that are out there. But first we need a new CBA. Who knows what is going to happen. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have a lot of options. With the right moves, we can do big things next year and in the years to come.


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