When it comes to cap space leading up to training camp, there are two things that a team can do. The first thing they can do is sit on it, and have it carry over to the next season. Teams often choose this option if they are comfortable with their roster, or they’re at the beginning of a rebuilding cycle and would like to have the extra cap space next year, knowing it’s not likely that they’ll do anything but make their lives difficult in the next couple years by desperately overpaying a player at the tail end of his career to come to a bad team. The second thing they can do is spend it on the players that are left, filling holes in their rosters with players that are known quantities. But what is left to spend on at this point in the year? Surely every player that is better than the Lions personnel would have been signed by now, right? And the Lions picked up a lot of depth in free agency and the draft, they don’t need any more veteran help, they’re good, right?
Wrong. Fifteen Million dollars is a lot of money to have at this point in the year when the players that found themselves surprised to be without a dance partner before the draft, or the ones that were looking for a place that they fit, rather than just the biggest payout are sitting there just waiting to be plucked from the edge of retirement, forced or otherwise. This is when good teams clean up, and save players from having to go play for the Browns, or if they’re lucky, end up in Canada, which is probably better than ending up playing in Cleveland. So here is a look at three players that are just flat out better than players the Lions would be relying on if week one were tomorrow.
The Jets wanted to deal Muhammad Wilkerson before the draft, but found no takers for their asking price. Prior to the draft I would have considered making a move for Wilkerson a possible blunder of legendary proportions, but as it stands, a long term solution to the defensive tackle issue, with Wilkerson and Robinson tearing the NFC North a new one for the next half decade, puts a big, greasy bearded smile on my face. The Lions retained Ngata sure, but even in his prime, Ngata was never as good as Wilkerson is as a disruptive, penetrating lineman, and I would put Ngata’s percentage chance of seeing year two of his deal at 50%. Wright looks like he might have some ability, but the talent of Wilkerson dwarfs any option the Lions have on their roster by a virtually infinite ratio. The Lions’ defensive line would go from “pretty good for the most part” to “better than 2014” with the addition of Wilkerson. If next season’s first and third round picks were required to get that done, so be it. The Lions have the cap space to take on an all world talent like Wilkerson, but not enough to have simply taken him from the Jets with an offer sheet.
The Lions have two recently-drafted guards, and a veteran free agent signed to back them up, or start in the event that the one of them falters, but Jahri Evans is a better player than any of them. Creating depth from the top is a viable strategy, particularly if Larry Warford is not the long term solution to the team’s right guard situation, and Laken Tomlinson is. The Lions’ offensive line is already deep, but putting Evans at the top of that chart would prevent the team from having to rely on a player like fifth rounder Joe Dahl in the event of as little as two injuries. Everyone remembers Warford’s great rookie season, but two sub-par years have left me without pity, and certainly not in a guaranteeing starting spots mood for a player whose best days very well may have been with an offensive coordinator that is never coming back. At Evans’ age, his contract is not likely to be a long one, and certainly will not be in the way when the Lions are trying to retain any of their recent picks. He would however along with Schwartz guarantee a minimum quality of above average to the Lions guard play this season. Guaranteeing solid interior offensive line play is worth a little cap space.
Again, and again, and again I have said, and will continue to say, that Boldin is the best available piece for the Lions’ passing game. Don’t even talk to me about some undrafted free agent who is 6’4″ and runs like a gazelle, he’s going to be on the practice squad, because he can’t catch or run routes. Don’t tell me the tight end that probably runs a 5.3 second forty yard dash at this point is a good enough red zone target, or the young one is suddenly going to stop dropping balls like they’re hot coals that have been tossed at him on third downs. You know who I would rather have replace Corey Fuller than an undrafted free agent? A hall of famer with Super Bowl appearances with three different franchises that runs every route, and catches everything, let all that corner depth take care of the special teams duties usually associated with the third wide receiver. You want to discuss the Ewing effect? Were the Lions to take half of the remaining cap space and give it to Boldin, for one last tango, their top three wide receivers would still be less expensive than Calvin Johnson was going to be, and the team would unquestionably be better off at the position than they were last year. Having Jeremy Kerley and TJ Jones as the number four and five options is not a bad thing, in fact that’s about perfect for both of those players. Were Boldin on this team, I think it’s reasonable to propose he could finish in the top two on this team in receptions, beating out one of the two younger men. There are a lot of things Calvin Johnson did for the Lions last season on third down, taking body blow after body blow for a first down, that there is just not a player on the roster to do right now, and Boldin does that better than anyone ever has. I’d like to see this legionnaire go out on a Honolulu blue and silver shield.
Some Other Names to Consider for that Cap Space
An honorable mention goes to Arian Foster, who was injured all last season limiting his productivity even when he did play, but Achilles tears are a death sentence to running backs past a certain age. It just takes longer to come back from than they have if he could though; the team that gets him will likely do so on a discount – and remember, two years ago he was among the best running backs in the NFL. Ahmad Bradshaw has also likely seen his last productive days in the NFL. Were Riddick to go down, and Bell to already be snapped up by someone else, I would take a look at him for some very specific packages, but the guy is made of porcelain. Joique Bell was never that good. He trucks defensive backs and goes down like a randy prostitute when touched by anyone in the front seven, he always has. With that said, if Ridley were to come up lame, Bell would be a call I would make. He’d likely sign for next to no cap space at this point, he has priced himself out of employment. I have already pimped Henry Melton as a solid defensive tackle to rotate in, and should any of the Lions players come up broken he would be a solid replacement. James Jones is likely to be a cheaper option than Boldin for the same role, but a much lesser talent. Dwight Freeney could situationally pass rush for the Lions but at this point he is a George Johnson level of player, albeit a type the Lions will need if Devin Taylor goes down. In short, having cap space right now is a good thing, and given the fact that this roster is by no means perfect, I certainly hope the Lions at least talk to some of the players I mentioned, though the last paragraph are far more likely than the earlier ones, due to the price tags involved being much lower.