The Lie Was That the Lions Had Enough Cap Space to Sign Big Names.
Here is the problem with this year’s free agency period for the Detroit Lions. There are a certain number of players that are absolutely worth whatever they cost to the team that signs them. These players usually don’t get to real free agency. Typically they end up having been franchise tagged, like your Cordy Glenns and Von Millers of the world. Then there are the ones that make it to free agency, and will be really good for whatever team gets them, like your Janoris Jenkins’ and your Malik Jacksons of the world. Those guys usually pick spots where the season either doesn’t get cold, taxes are low, they can play for a contender, or any number of other reasons. That’s just a fact, California teams, Texas teams, Arizona teams, Florida teams etc. They just have an advantage in free agency. The only way to compete with them for a market like Detroit, is to overspend, or sift through their leavings for targets beneath their lofty gaze from atop the ivory towers they are lucky enough to inhabit. I’m not disparaging Detroit, I’m just saying that it’s a tougher sell than Hollywood, the bay area, or South Beach. There is only one thing that can cure this terminal condition, and that’s winning. The Red Wings don’t have trouble convincing free agents to slide that sweater over their gear to ride out the Michigan winter from that seat on the Zamboni. It’s probably also an easier sell to a defenseman from Canada, Russia, or one of the Scandinavian countries than, say, a corner from California or Florida.
How much work do you think Bob Quinn wanted to put in to luring big fish? They were not going to be able to outspend the Raiders, Giants, or Jaguars, all of whom not only had more money, but a less daunting task to convince players to come. Why bother? He went after lesser players, and guys that wanted to come to Detroit. Guys looking for a chance to shine, a chance to show the league that they’re not just back ups or second fiddles, that they’re not second round draft busts, that they are one of the 32 best human beings on the planet at what they do. Whatever is going on with Tulloch, and possibly Pettigrew, in addition to the team needing to take care of a few free agents of their own going forward, and the sheer number of roster spots the Lions had to fill, made the Lions prospects in free agency less than advertised. The Lions were outside the top ten in cap space when the free agency period began, and I for one am glad that they didn’t go out and give someone like Olivier Vernon a huge contract that made signing Ziggy Ansah impossible. Or go out and get Janoris Jenkins, making a Darius Slay extension impossible. The bottom line is that this free agency group was loaded at positions the Lions were reasonably secure in, while being particularly weak at the positions in which the Lions needed help. The good news is that the draft is strong in positions where the Lions need help, and not exactly great in positions where the Lions are secure.
But what if the Lions don’t fill every need they have in the Draft? Who’s left that might still help out? I love making lists of five to ten players ranked by my opinions on their greatness, so here are the top five targets for the Lions from the veteran free agency pool in the wake of the draft. The number in parentheses is the price I suspect they will fetch.
So Let’s Look at What’s Left in Free Agency
Offensive Tackle Will Beatty ($7 million):
2014 was a good year for Will Beatty. Coming off a broken leg to end a terrible 2013 season, He re-solidified himself as a dominant run blocker (even in his worst season he was a +7.2 rated run blocker by PFF), and a solid pass blocker in 2014 under new Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. With the vast majority of the teams who need a tackle having made other plans this offseason, the Lions could find themselves in a position to give the 31 year old Beatty his best chance at a starting gig. He has refused to work out for teams, not wanting to show them an injured version of himself in workouts. He did tear a pectoral in the preseason last year, and then tore his rotator cuff while rehabbing to get back and help with the playoff push.
Defensive Tackle Henry Melton ($4 million):
He picks and chooses his spots, and in a deep class of defensive tackles, he’s not signing anywhere before the draft this season. He signs a one year deal for about 4 million dollars and generates 5 sacks a season with fair consistency. Last year with the Buccaneers he was utilized as a defensive end, which is very clearly not his game. His production dropped significantly, so in the event that the Lions do not get themselves a highly ranked defensive tackle prospect, Melton could very easily step in and contribute for the Lions in a very significant way for the 2016 season.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers ($3 million):
What’s the name of the guy who has been playing across from Patrick Peterson in Arizona for the last while? Nope, not the Honey Badger, it’s Jerraud Powers. He has been making the rounds, likely being scouted by teams for precisely the scenario I’m talking about. He’s never going to be a team’s first choice as their starting outside corner – competent starter is his ceiling and basement. He isn’t going to lose or win games for you, which is absolutely perfect for the Lions across from Darius Slay.
Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin ($5 million):
Boldin has been the prototypical possession receiver in the NFL since the day he was drafted. With hot garbage at the quarterback position in the form of Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, Boldin still recorded five or more receptions in 11 of 16 games last year because he simply knows how to get open. His toughness and leadership ability are unmatched in the NFL, having suited up for three different franchises in the Superbowl. Boldin is definitely not going to sign before the draft, and would likely have a sizable price tag, but his game has never been reliant on athleticism. he ran a 4.7 40 at his combine. Were he to be signed, I believe he would end the season at worst third on the team in receptions.
Wide Receiver James Jones ($1 million):
You need a guy that gets open and helps his quarterback when all hell breaks loose? James Jones is that man. He is a guy that that chews up yards after the catch, while not in the same way as Golden Tate, the results have been similar. Jones averaged 5,26 yac per catch last season, Tate 6.08. Jones does it by finding space in zones, and bailing out the quarterback on broken plays, while Tate takes slants and bubble screens for yardage. He would add an outside possession receiver to the mix. As a third or fourth option at the receiver spot Jones brings 50+ catches in every one of the last four seasons to the table, including his disastrous year in Oakland. Though I will say that in that season, he did have a similar statistical year to Golden Tate last year, just fewer catches, and more touchdowns.
Breaking it down
If I were doing a mock offseason right now, the first four players on this list would be my post-draft free agent signings. This would (of course) require that I were unable to secure a player at their positions in the first two rounds that brought that same skill set. These may not be the most pressing needs The Lions have, though I will say that if the Lions do not add something to this group of pass catchers I am not going to be a happy fan, they’re just not equipped to effectively beat a defense in the air with sustained regularity, they lack the thing that Boldin and Jones bring, that Outside possession receiver. While there are plenty of late round guys that may very well become that player, I just don’t see the kind of year one production from that spot, outside the first two rounds, that either Jones or Boldin can provide.
It’s nice to have had the time to write something other than a collection of links to other people’s work for once. One more exam to go. @a5hcrack on the twitter and /u/a5hcrack on /r/detroitlions.