Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer 51d

Breaking down Lions' pending free agents: Who stays, goes?

Free agency officially begins in less than a week and the Detroit Lions' roster turnover will truly begin. Some players, such as Romeo Okwara and Don Muhlbach, have re-signed. Others, such as Glover Quin, are gone.

This isn’t a high-profile Lions free agent class, which means a lot will depend on cost. To help navigate that, here’s a breakdown of every Lions free agent and a prediction on their future with wholly unscientific percentages.

QB Matt Cassel: With a change in offensive scheme and questions around Matthew Stafford’s long-term future, it would seem unlikely Cassel will return. Matt Patricia had him as someone who understands the New England culture. Now that others get it in the locker room, Detroit can go after a younger player for the No. 2 role. The reason to bring him back? Backup quarterbacks are as much about getting the starter prepared as playing in a pinch and in that role, Cassel is invaluable.

Chances he returns: 25 percent.

RB LeGarrette Blount: Kerryon Johnson has a year of experience now and is ready to take a larger offensive role. Blount showed he couldn’t do a ton as a reserve, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Even as a short-yardage back, the Lions can get younger here.

Chances he returns: .01 percent.

RB Zach Zenner: He’s everything the Lions would like in a reserve back. He’s reliable. He falls forward and gets positive yards. He’s good on special teams. He’s a strong locker room guy who has shown his worth on the field as well the last three seasons. Biggest question is if someone is going to give him more money than Detroit.

Chances he returns: 50 percent.

FB Nick Bellore: The Lions committed a seventh-round pick to Nick Bawden at fullback last year. He brings value on special teams, which could be his ticket back to Detroit – or elsewhere.

Chances he returns: 33 percent.

WR TJ Jones: Jones had a chance to have a larger role as the No. 3 receiver after Golden Tate was traded and a starter after Marvin Jones Jr.’s injury. He did little to solidify either spot and didn’t show statistical progress off a promising 2017 season. Jones can play in the league, but with the offensive change it might just be elsewhere in his first time hitting unrestricted free agency.

Chances he returns: 20 percent.

WR Bruce Ellington: The Lions cut Ellington earlier this offseason. He did OK in his limited role before going on injured reserve. But Brandon Powell should end up taking his spot.

Chances he returns: 0 percent.

TE Luke Willson: It didn’t work last year. Brought in as a pass-catching option, Willson barely saw any targets, let alone production. He had the worst year of his career (13 catches, 87 yards, no touchdowns) and became an offensive afterthought. He has familiarity with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, but it might be better for both sides to get a start somewhere else.

Chances he returns: 5 percent

TE Levine Toilolo: Of all the disappointment at tight end for Detroit last year, Toilolo was a bright spot. He continued to be a capable blocker, which is why he was signed from Atlanta, and he showed some receiving skills with 21 catches for 263 yards and a touchdown. Detroit will need some sort of veteran presence from the position group so the reliable Toilolo might make sense on a budget.

Chances he returns: 35 percent.

OL Andrew Donnal: Figure the Lions will upgrade here to solidify the third/fourth tackle spot.

Chances he returns: 1 percent.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: The Lions’ highest-profile free agent, the question for the Lions with Ansah has everything to do with his health and nothing to do with his production. That general manager Bob Quinn said during the combine that they were still monitoring him medically raises more concerns, too. At this point, it would not make sense for Detroit to bring him back on anything other than a one-year prove-it deal at the right price. Ansah should and will command more on the open market.

Chances he returns: 5 percent.

DE Kerry Hyder: The Lions had issues keeping Ansah healthy and still, Hyder couldn’t see the field. Maybe the Lions continue to believe in him, but based off how they used – or didn’t use – him in 2018, it would seem more likely the team won’t tender him and he’ll be a free agent. For his sake, it might be best he gets a start somewhere that can use him as a 4-3 pass-rusher who can play inside, which is where his skills lie.

Chances he returns: 2 percent.

DT Ricky Jean Francois: The 10-year vet is a locker room leader and a player who has no problem pushing his teammates. He also understands what Matt Patricia wants and is the type of rotational player teams need in the middle of their roster. He could get interest from elsewhere and he likely wouldn’t be an early signing, but if Detroit doesn’t like what it sees in the free agent market, it’s entirely possible to see Jean Francois back in Detroit.

Chances he returns: 60 percent.

LB Eli Harold: The Lions traded for Harold last training camp and he ended up with a career high four sacks. Detroit should consider bringing him back but only at the right cost since he’d likely back up Devon Kennard.

Chances he returns: 33 percent.

LB Kelvin Sheppard: He’s a good special teams player. With Steve Longa returning, there might not be room for him.

Chances he returns: 1 percent

CB DeShawn Shead: The Lions gave him a big contract last year and then cut him. Tough to see Detroit going back to that spot again, especially since the Lions probably will invest in the position in both free agency and the draft.

Chances he returns: .01 percent

DB Marcus Cooper: The Lions didn’t get a ton out of him the last month of the year, but he’s a good special teams player. He can provide depth at corner if necessary, but there might be better options out there.

Chances he returns: 5 percent.

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