How Could The Lions Handle The Rest Of Their Free Agents?
There is not enough time, or enough to say about the majority of the Lions remaining free agents to warrant a full article treatment. Their signings are handled by the criteria by which I judge all non-essential free agents. I look at a player’s cost vs his replacement of similar skill for the players under team control, and whether or not a player earned a raise for unrestricted free agent.
Very few of the Lions players from 2016 will not get at least a look in training camp somewhere. A yes doesn’t really mean I love a player that made $600K in 2016. All it means is that he deserves a spot on the 90 man roster. Obviously if I think a player is likely to ask for $3 million per year, and it turns out he’ll sign for $800k, that alters my assessment.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
T. J. Jones and Brandon Copeland should be back with the team as camp bodies if nothing else. Jones did not get much playing time and was not on the roster for most of the year, but he made more plays on offense in 2016 than he ever had before. That is to say he made one or two nice plays.
Brandon Copeland was a very good special teams player so he should contend for a roster spot on the 53 next season as the ninth or tenth defensive lineman on the team. His athleticism allows him to play linebacker badly in a pinch, and having a bad option is better than not having one. Kerry Hyder is also an exclusive rights free agent. He led the team in sacks this season and should obviously be brought back.
Restricted Free Agents
Cornelius Lucas and Khyri Thornton are automatically given a spot in training camp next year in my opinion. Lucas is not a great offensive tackle but with Riley Reiff a free agent, losing depth at that spot would be a mistake. Thornton played poorly in Green Bay. He had enough good games to get another chance. It would be a good sign for Bob Quinn’s work if none of the restricted free agents made the 53 man roster in week one though.
Players I Would Not Bring Back to Camp
Stefan Charles and Tyrunn Walker were disappointments at the defensive tackle position. They lost snaps to players like Hyder as the season went on because of their poor play. Their price tag is too high for their value. Rafael Bush has likely seen himself squeezed out of a role by the emergence of Tavon Wilson as the starter and Miles Killebrew as a decent relief player. Bush is a strong safety only and that lack of ability to backup multiple positions limits his usefulness at the third spot on the depth chart. Asa Jackson and Crezdon Butler were terrible. Joique Bell had a nice run and Dan Orlovsky should start the transition into coaching. Garret Reynolds spent most of the season on a couch and for good reason. There will be better options at league minimum in the offseason.
Players I Would Bring Back to Camp
Don Mulbach should be allowed to have another attempt to beat out Jimmy Landes, though I suspect that the days of Death, Taxes, and Don Mulbach are coming to a close. Jon Bostic would have been the difference between winning and losing the Tennessee game, he should be back. Matt Mulligan, Tim Wright, and Clay Harbor should come back at tight end, just to give the team options as to the type and quantity of tight ends they draft/sign in 2017. Josh Bynes showed he’s a good enough player to be the third option at linebacker in nickel packages. Armonty Bryant played well enough for the Lions, that someone might throw him a better than league minimum deal despite the suspension problems in his past. Teams are always hungry for pass rushers. If nobody takes that chance he definitely did enough to deserve a chance to compete for a job.
Going into free agency
I have the Lions primary needs as right guard, right tackle, three technique defensive tackle, outside corner back, and strong side linebacker. A primary need is a position where the Lions do not have a legitimate starter under contract right now.
They have secondary needs at wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, free safety, middle linebacker, and defensive end. A secondary need is a position where they need to find some more depth. Remember that those needs do not take into account any of the Lions own free agents that have not yet re-signed.