Depth and Offensive Line improvement has made Bob Quinn a Winner in Free Agency, but are the important signings over?
Looking at what has transpired so far in the Lions off-season, I think almost all Detroit fans can agree that free agency has been a phenomenal success. While the release of DeAndre Levy was a bit of a shock to say the least, Bob Quinn and the front office addressed numerous positions of need across the lineup, focusing heavily on the trenches. On the defensive line, they added edge setting end Cornelius Washington, run stuffer Akeem Spence, and brought back Khyri Thornton. This should help solidify a powerful D-line rotation that can cause some disruption and out-muscle opposing linemen.
The offensive line however, are where the biggest additions lie. Tackle Ricky Wagner and guard T.J. Lang, both top five players at their respective positions, are huge gets. They will significantly upgrade the right side of Detroit’s offensive line, and came cheaper than the players that they replaced would have been. This was one of the best moves of the NFL off-season and Bob Quinn deserves immense credit for it. Along with depth moves like Paul Worrilow, DJ Hayden, Darren Fells, and Keyshawn Martin, Detroit has gone a long way toward upgrading their roster and filling holes at discount prices. The real question though: are there any more signings that they can or should make? Let’s take a minute to run through the facts and find out:
What Do They Have Left To Work With?
With all of the Lions’ additions included, the Lions have about $9 million in remaining cap space on the top 51 players. We also however have to consider the projected $6.1 million to sign the Lions’ draft class on top of these signings. Roughly $1.95 million of that counts against the top 51 cap figure after the non-qualifying contracts are reduced down. Once that is set aside, that would leave about $7.2 million in functional cap to work with. This would make it seem like Detroit is close to done in free agency outside filling out the roster with one or two moves. With DeAndre Levy designated a post June 1st cut though, the Lions will gain back a little under $5.8 million in cap room which will allow them to make some more moves and sign their draft class. The catch however is they don’t get access to any of that cap room until June 1st, meaning it won’t help them in the free agency period. Based on that, they will probably defer the cost of their draft class to post June 1, leaving $6.4 million available for any pre-draft moves they still wish to make. While that gives them a little more breathing room, it’s not enough to expect any serious moves without first opening up cap room.
What Do They Still Need?
Looking at the current Lions roster, many of Detroit’s major needs heading into the off-season have been addressed pretty well. The offensive line was arguably the biggest concern heading into this period and now it’s completely locked in without even a real need for depth additions. Areas that still need improvement however probably start with the linebackers. With Levy’s release Bob Quinn took a position that was already bare and made it very concerning. The addition of Paul Worrilow will help with competent play at one of the three starting spots, however someone that can confidently hold down the middle linebacker position and push Whitehead to the Sam linebacker spot would be a major improvement.
In the secondary, the Hayden signing was a smart deal but he and Lawson should not be the only two players competing for the starting job opposite Slay. Another big outside corner would still be a smart get. Some strong safety competition would also be nice with Rafael Bush probably not returning however it’s not a crucial need with Wilson and Killebrew currently at the position. Regarding the defensive line, the only real gain Detroit could still benefit from is a speed element off the edge which they currently lack. They could use a three-tech penetrator to add a different look to the defensive tackle rotation as well but they might want Washington to slide inside for that role on third downs.
On offense there are a few needs that still need to be considered here as well. A true power running back is an obvious must get to capitalize on this new look offensive line and the improved run blocking they should provide. Another in-line tight end would also be nice for both now and the future. While Darren Fells is one of the better blockers in the game, he’s only on a one year deal and Ebron could be gone as early as next year as well with no decent prospects behind them. Outside that, the only other major position to look at offensively would be another receiver. With Roberts gone and Boldin not under contract, Keyshawn Martin is currently the #3 receiver. Detroit needs to target at least one if not more guys to fill out the depth chart and provide more passing options for Stafford.
What’s Still On The Market?
Despite limited cap space, there are still lots of options out there to fill Detroit’s needs prior to the draft. Looking first defensively, the one position that still has several good options available is the position the Lions need most help with: linebacker. With the amount of space that Detroit has left, top end options like Zach Brown and Gerald Hodges are still in play should they choose to pursue them. This would probably mean the end of Whitehead in Detroit as well though as they would probably choose to cut him for cap space with that sort of addition. Perry Riley and Will Compton would be more attainable targets in the middle of the market.
Looking at the secondary options, there isn’t a whole lot left regarding capable starters. Brandon Flowers and Patrick Robinson are probably the best players left but they aren’t exactly guys to get overly excited about and there’s nothing really at all on the strong safety market. On the defensive line, the Lions’ best option is probably to bring back Armonty Bryant among the defensive ends available, while the defensive tackle group is pretty tapped out as it currently stands.
Regarding the offense, Legarrette Blount and Adrian Peterson are the best power running options on the market although both more likely than not will have hangups that will keep them far away from Detroit. At tight end there is no one left I would bother looking at. There are still some interesting players available at receiver though including guys like Kamar Aiken, Marquess Wilson, and Brian Quick. All of them could have a significant impact for Detroit in 2017.
Final Thoughts And Predictions
While there are moves that would definitely be great to see, don’t expect an immense amount of activity in the remaining free agency period. Linebacker, cornerback, edge rusher, tight end, running back, defensive tackle, wide receiver and a developmental quarterback are all positions expected to be targeted in the draft and should cover the majority of the team’s larger needs. As for the most likely free agent signings left until draft day, I would keep an eye on Armonty Bryant, Kamar Aiken, and Perry Riley. Although none of them have been tied to Detroit as of yet, they are the best attainable options on the market in areas of need. Don’t worry about Detroit still having one or two holes potentially after the draft, they will get another several million dollars to work with post June 1 with veterans still on the market as previously discussed.