A Guide To The Best Outcome For The Detroit Lions Free Agency.
From the moment that the Lions lost to the Seahawks, Bob Quinn has had a monumental task set out before him. He is the man responsible for making the Detroit Lions something they have not been for a very long time: better than a fringe playoff team. Since the fifties the Lions have not been able to attain consistent playoff success, having won only….. You all know that story, I won’t bore you with it yet again. Let’s move on to a more recent offseason.
Luckily for Mr. Quinn he’s got a secret weapon, and last year he actually seemed to be using it. He’s got me to guide him through the process. I got a couple signings right last year, it was a classic blind squirrel finding a nut scenario. It isn’t because I am a wizard, or have some line to the Lions organization. I am about as far from a Lions insider as you can get; the exception being Dillon from Guam who is a little farther from Allen Park than me. It’s just because Bob Quinn is doing his job.
Unlike some former general managers, the current Lions roster boss seems to be doing things like “identifying holes in the roster” and performing magic tricks like “filling those holes with players.” This is not rocket science, but Quinn has shown an ability to see what’s wrong and fix it where so many Lions GMs have not. He has been free from the wishing and hoping that other GMs for the Lions have been prone to. Quinn cut his free agents that didn’t pan out, and drafted redundancies in case they didn’t. He improved the depth of a team that had none, across the board. So I am going to do my best Bob Quinn impression, and hope that if he doesn’t exactly follow my lead here, he at least sees and fills the same holes I do here.
Free Agency In The 2017 Offseason
The Lions have about $33 million in salary cap space going into free agency. I went over where that number comes from HERE. The “long story short” for that is that the rest of their space goes to rookies, but you don’t subtract the whole rookie pool because: reasons. What I would do with that money is build depth, but in a different way that Bob Quinn did last year. The Lions biggest hole as a group last year was impact players.
They need to improve the depth chart from the top down in free agency, and from the bottom up through the draft. The Lions need play-makers but only have a league average amount of cap space. That means they’re not going to be outbidding anyone for the top tier of players at any position. Every team that has more cap space than they do has at least 3/4 of the same needs as the Lions. They need impact on a budget, and this is how they get it.
Jack Doyle TE: $3m Cap Hit In 2017
Doyle fills part of Anquan Boldin’s receiving role, and also blocks like a truck. The Lions 12 personnel is suddenly their best formation. Doyle likely gets a similar amount to Boldin’s salary last year, but also improves the running game by ridding the team of the “extra tackle” formation. You recall it; the one that told the safeties to not bother with deep coverage responsibilities and freed a linebacker up to focus strictly on finding the hole to meet a running back in. Cap space of $31.5 million remains.
Kamar Aiken WR: $2 Million Cap Hit In 2017
Aiken has 4.5 speed and brings a physicality to the table that the Lions receiving corps lack without Boldin in the line up. He’s a big body who likely feels that he was snubbed in Baltimore after a breakout 2015 season. He can likely be grabbed for a pittance this offseason after falling to the fourth WR role in Baltimore. Showing him tape of Boldin’s 2016 role likely gets him in the door. He’s a tool box WR for a low price, likely less than three million. Cap space of $30 million remains.
Mike Remmers OT: $3 Million Cap Hit In 2017
I am just going to reiterate it, someone will pay Reiff to play left tackle, and the Lions should let him go when they do. What they should not do is line up to give someone else slightly less than Reiff made. They should sign someone good enough to keep Robinson off the field unless he improves a great deal, and see what happens in the draft. Remmers isn’t a good left tackle, but he was not the problem with that offensive line. He led speed rushers to an acceptable depth and slides laterally very well, which is a must for the zone blocking that Jim Bob Cooter loves in the running game. For $3-4 million the Lions can likely gain an acceptable starter on the right side this offseason. Cap space of $27.5 million remaining.
Latavius Murray RB: $5m Cap Hit In 2017
Not a fan of Andre Roberts as the Kick Returner? I disagree with you, but the best return man on the roster is Ameer Abdullah. This signing pushes Abdullah to a change of pace role on offense, and kick returner. Relying on a player whose season has ended with his health in a place where he needed surgery in two out of two seasons is madness. Murray has incredible burst for a player of his size, and better straight line speed than any of the Lions running backs. He is a three down capable back, who has benefited at times from the Raiders being able to spell him for a drive or two and their great line play. The Lions offense and situation fits him like a glove, and he’s 6’3″ 230lbs. This is the best available running back under 30 this offseason. Cap space of $23m remaining.
Zach Brown MLB: $5m Cap Hit in 2017
Brown is a sideline to sideline spark plug. His coverage ability is elite, which is the biggest need for the Lions defense from their MLB. The Lions front seven missed this exact player in 2017; someone to pair with Levy in nickle situations and keep Tahir Whitehead from having too much responsibility. Whitehead moves into the role he was built for, the SLB who can move to the middle in the event of an injury to Brown. A dynamic athlete who has proven he can play is the perfect fit for the Lions linebacker situation. Cap space of $18.5 million remaining.
Alterraun Verner CB: $5m Cap Hit In 2017
Verner was a talented press man corner who signed with a Tampa Two team because they threw an enormous amount of money at him. Then that team had a coaching upheaval and brought in players that the new staff wanted. He lost his slot to save his team a huge amount of cap space. There are two ways to go with Verner, and the Lions could likely lock him up as a short term option on a show me deal. Another option would be a long term deal that grows significantly after the first year and has a little more guaranteed money. Either way the first season will probably be a fairly cheap, starting caliber player at corner who pushes the Lions other corners down a slot, making the secondary a much better group. Cap at $14 million remaining.
Glen Dorsey DT: $3m Cap Hit In 2017
Dorsey needs to get out of the 3-4 nose role in the league. It is a rare man that can stand up to that role for an extended period. He is massive upgrade over the Lions bevy of marginal defensive tackles that were brought in last offseason. Dorsey tore his ACL toward the end of the 2015 season and it affected him in the 2016 season. He is not a gap shooting pass rusher, but does not give ground to the point of impeding linebackers against the run. Dorsey would effectively fill the role that Stephan Charles and Khyri Thornton did this season. He is not a young man, but he’s still effective when he’s on the field. Cap space of $12 million remaining.
The Rest Of The 90-Man Roster
The Lions exclusive rights free agents, restricted free agents, Andre Roberts, Josh Bynes, John Bostic, Armonty Bryant, Devin Taylor and a few other random camp bodies who may or may not make the 53 man roster, will likely suck up the rest of that cap space this offseason.
Now what you may be thinking is that this puts the Lions in a place where they can’t extend Stafford and Ansah but you’re wrong. Extending a player almost never raises their cap hit if they’re already at a high number. They typically get a huge bonus in year one, and are thus willing to take a low salary. Stafford’s deal may be $25 million a year, but the cap hit in 2017 could be as low as 15 million without too much difficulty if the team wanted it to be. Later years take a hit, but that’s manageable if it’s the team’s only mega-deal. As for Ansah, he is currently at the likely average per year number of his long term deal value, the first season would certainly be a lower cap number.
Next up I’ll be doing a seven round mock draft to go with this free agency group.