The Detroit Lions have had a fairly busy off-season thus far, signing eight players at six different positions. General manager Bob Quinn has made huge strides in repairing the offensive line with the signing of T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner. Some depth at defensive line has also been added with a few other signings at linebacker and tight end.
There are still plenty of free agents left, leaving Detroit with ample opportunity. With an estimated remaining cap space of just over $8.5 million the Lions have some room to add to their roster.
As I mentioned earlier, the offensive line has already gotten the upgrade it needed, with All-Pro and Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang coming from Green Bay. Detroit also filled the gap at right tackle with former Baltimore Raven Ricky Wagner. This leaves Detroit’s offense in good shape. The running back position is more than full which means the front line is set.
At receiver Detroit has not made any activity aside from signing tight end Darren Fells to an overcrowded tight end group. With five tight ends on the roster the coaching staff will use this abundance for training camps and slim it down to probably three for the 53 man roster.
Detroit lost slot receiver and punt return specialist Andre Roberts to Atlanta and sure handed veteran Anquan Boldin has still not been signed. It is likely that Detroit will remain in house to address their number one slot receiver as there are no receivers left on the market that would give the Lions what they are looking for.
Defense should be the focus for the remainder of the off-season for the Lions as the group was one of the worst in the NFL last season. Detroit has done little to upgrade the linebacker unit that helped garner the league’s number 14 ranked pass defense and number 15 ranked rushing defense. Most of the remaining money the Lions have should be spent on this position as the market still holds quality players.
Manti Te’o would be a perfect fill for the inside linebacker position. He is coming off of a serious achilles injury which indicates two things. One, he is a liability and could easily be hurt again. Two, it makes it easy for Detroit to take a low risk approach and sign him to a short deal with cash incentives for him to stay healthy.
Te’o excelled in his first four seasons before injury, recording 160 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended and a forced fumble. Te’o’s biggest asset is that he is young and has plenty of time to harness his talent and become a force in the league. Detroit should offer a short contract and add to their thin linebacker position.
Just behind the linebackers stands a safety position that needs help as well. Starting at free safety, Glover Quin has been one of the brighter spots on the defense, not missing a game for the silver and blue since arriving in 2013. Over the last two seasons there has been a lack of quality in the strong safety spot though. Playing his first six years on a strong defensive unit in Buffalo, Aaron Williams is still on the market and offers tremendous value. He recorded 183 tackles, seven interceptions, and 36 defended passes in his time there and would be a much better counterpart at the opposite safety spot.
T.J. McDonald, who is ranked the number 18 best free agent this year according to NFL.com, is also still available. While McDonald is known for allowing the occasional big play, he is an enforcer in the secondary and provides a big pop that causes quarterbacks to question throwing his way. In four years playing for the Rams he gathered 215 tackles, five sacks, 18 defended passes and four interceptions. This will be McDonald‘s first year not being on a rookie contract so he may carry a larger price tag, but his intensity would certainly be welcomed.
There is also a large wealth at cornerback left, giving Detroit an opportunity to bolster their defense further. Standout corner Brandon Flowers is still available but will likely be looking for a long term deal worth a pretty penny. Former Buffalo Bill Phillip Thomas is still up for grabs and would work as the number three corner behind Darius Slay and D.J. Hayden. He has not earned a starting spot at any of the teams he has played on, making him a cheap investment with little risk.
Nickell Robey-Coleman is another former Bill that could help out. He has had an impressive first four seasons, recording 133 tackles, five sacks, and 29 defended passes. He could also be signed for a short and inexpensive deal but comes with a downside. He is one of the smallest corners in the league which limits him to strictly covering the slot.
Detroit needs to bring some of these free agents in for visits and sign them quickly. The draft is approaching fast and training camps even faster. Some of these acquisitions could prove to be the building blocks for the upcoming season.
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