The free agency period is not as crucial as it once seemed at the start of the season thanks to some early contract negotiations from Lions GM Bob Quinn. Getting Darius Slay, Sam Martin, and Theo Riddick under long term deals took several important negotiations out of the way, allowing Detroit’s front office to focus on a more manageable group of guys. With that said, there are still a number of high and medium importance free agent targets that Detroit needs to discuss resigning going into the off-season. Lets take a look at some of Detroit’s highest profile free agents, project what they should command on the market, and see how that impacts their likelihood of staying in Honolulu Blue.
After playing the left tackle position for the first four years of his career, Reiff slid over to the right side for the first time this season and, as many fans cautiously hoped he would, he excelled. His play went from being around the league average on the left side of the line to a clear top ten player at the position on the right. Despite not having played the position since his freshman year at Iowa, Reiff’s body type clearly lent itself better to playing on the right side of the line. He was a devastating run blocker, especially in space, and remained fairly consistent against the pass despite battling a few different injuries. On top of this Reiff still has plenty of room to grow as he becomes more accustomed to right tackle and develops his footwork and technique at the new position. He will certainly be one of the hottest names on the offensive line market this off-season.
The real question with Reiff’s value as a free agent is whether a team views him as a career right tackle or a potential career left tackle. Most will see his weaknesses in pass protection and come to the conclusion that they want him on the right side. There are a handful of clubs however that are desperate at the position and are generally run-heavy offenses, for example Carolina, and one might decide to throw money at him and take a shot. In the grand scheme of things, I cannot see any of those teams offering him more then a larger sized prove it deal with little in the way of guarantees to see if they can make him work on the left side. That simply won’t stack up against the guaranteed figures he will see on the right, so let’s presume we’re basing his contract on right tackle salaries. I have Reiff as the number two right tackle on the board and he along with Ricky Wagner will get top end money for the position. While Wagner had the better year last season, Reiff has more positional versatility so that should equal out to similar money for both guys. The Lions will probably be forced to choose between Reiff and Warford considering the contracts they will demand, and the tackle position is always more important to lock down then guard with all else being equal.
Salary Prediction: 5 years, $7 million per year, $25 million guaranteed
Chance of Returning: 80%
Warford started out his career with a bang, finishing his rookie year as a top 5 overall guard in the NFL. Since that point however, Warford has been affected by numerous scheme changes, injuries, and instability at positions on either side of him which has dropped his production a fair bit. Coming off two down years though, Warford began to seem more comfortable at times this year and managed to stay relatively healthy. Now the mauling guard enters free agency with a ton of questions surrounding his future and fit in Detroit. While Larry came to the Lions as a breath of fresh air that helped establish a hard nosed power presence on the offensive line, the team is now a pass blocking zone scheme that really does not fit his talents. He is certainly an extremely talented guard when he’s healthy, but it makes for a tough decision on him when he’s going to be asking for a large sum of money and has turned into a bit of a square peg in Detroit’s scheme.
While his power run style may not fit Detroit, Larry will not be short of suitors from a better fitting scheme. The number four guard available in this year’s free agent pool should specifically see a lot of interest from the NFC west where there are a lot of power run offenses with a lot of really bad blocking. I have no doubt in my mind that there will be a bidding war that pops up around Warford and someone will throw really silly money at him, probably drawing his tenure in Detroit to a close.
Salary Prediction: 4 years, $8.5 million per year, $15 million guaranteed
Chance of Returning: 5%
This season for the most part established that Devin Taylor is not a starting quality guy. To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement. While there were high hopes to start the year that Taylor would transition his great 2015 campaign into an at least decent first year as a starter, those hopes were dashed early and often. While Taylor struggled with an ankle injury for part of the year, even when healthy he struggled to get consistent pressure and did not do well in Teryl Austin’s more exotic looks. It seems clear his motor was an issue and showed he is much better suited to a rotational role going forward. While it certainly didn’t help that Ansah’s injury thrust him into a bigger role then perhaps he should have been asked to take on, he still needed to contribute more then he did, and that leaves Detroit with a difficult evaluation to make on him.
It’s hard to really pin down where Taylor’s value sits as a free agent as it will completely depend upon where teams with a need value him. Yes he’s coming off a down year but when you combine the extenuating circumstances with his past production and add in the fact that he is one of the younger mid-range free agent targets available, it wouldn’t be stunning to see him get borderline starting DE money from somebody. I highly doubt that team would be Detroit though considering they have several cheaper options in their rotation they seem to like better.
Salary Prediction: 2 years, $4.5 million per year, $2 million guaranteed
Chance of Returning: 25%
Hyder was an absolute sensation at the start of the year for Detroit. Coming from absolutely nowhere the three technique convert led Detroit in sacks, offering an explosive element off the edge on a team desperate for one while missing Ziggy Ansah. Yes Hyder is unquestionably rough around the edges but that comes with the territory of dropping a substantial amount of weight in a very short period of time to save your job and playing a brand new position for the first time. It will be extremely interesting to see his growth once everyone gets back to camp in late summer after he’s actually had time to grow and develop as a player. If he can develop some more awareness in the run game and continue to develop his outside pass rushing moves it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he turned into a starting quality talent.
The best part about Hyder’s situation from a team perspective is that he is an exclusive rights free agent. This means that so long as the Lions tender him a one year non-guaranteed contract, which they would be insane not to, then Hyder can only play for Detroit for the 2017 season. Detroit will probably make this process simple by just getting a short term deal done now and using next season to negotiate a longer term contract so long as he continues to look good and develop at the position.
Salary Prediction: 1 year, $650k per year
Chance of Returning: 100%
Anquan Boldin had a phenomenal renaissance year for Detroit in 2016. The 36-year-old made numerous clutch catches, especially in third down situations, sporting his usual style of hard fought aggressive catches where he showcases his strength over lesser defensive backs. While he definitely had lost a step last year, the way he was utilized in the middle of the field as almost a tight end played to his strengths and resulted in an eight touchdown campaign. On top of this he served as a great locker room leadership presence and a mentor to younger players on the roster, an invaluable piece Detroit has sorely missed in years past.
Boldin should get around the same amount of money as last year as a free agent so that isn’t an issue. The real question regarding if he will be back will surround what the Lions do in the off-season. If they go out and address the tight end and wide receiver positions effectively it is highly unlikely that we see Boldin back next year. If they struggle to find some of those big needs in free agency or the draft though, expect there to be a high likelihood he returns. This off-season’s moves will certainly tell us a lot about the Bob Quinn regime and the direction this team is going to take going forward.
Salary Prediction: 1 year, $3 million per year, $ 1 million guaranteed
Chance of Returning: 55%
Some Other Notable Free Agent Considerations
Dan Orlovsky: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $1.2 million / Chance of Returning: 75%
Andre Roberts: Salary Prediction: 2 years, $1.3 million per year, $500k guaranteed / Chance of Returning: 90%
Stefan Charles: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $1.5 million / Chance of Returning: 40%
Rafael Bush: Salary Prediction: 2 years, $ 1.75 million per year / Chance of Returning: 20%
Josh Bynes: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $800k / Chance of Returning: 60%
Armonty Bryant: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $850k / Chance of Returning: 85%
Khyri Thornton: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $750k Chance of Returning: 65%
Brandon Copeland: Salary Prediction: 2 years, $700k per year / Chance of Returning: 70%
Tyrunn Walker: Salary Prediction: 1 year, $760k / Chance of Returning: 0%