A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.
To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.
Today the series continues with running backs.
Previous positions: Quarterbacks
2014 free agents: Joique Bell (restricted free agent)
The good: Reggie Bush and Bell were one of the top running back tandems in the NFL last season, becoming the first duo in NFL history to have both 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Bush hit the 1,000-yard marker for the second time in three seasons, gaining 1,006 yards in 14 games and also caught 54 passes for 506 yards. Bell also had a breakout season, gaining a career-high 650 yards with eight touchdowns and also catching a career-high 53 passes for 547 yards. Combined, they gave Detroit a legitimate running game for the first time in recent history. Bush was the first 1,000-yard back for Detroit since 2004. Theo Riddick, a rookie last season, was one of the Lions better special-teams players.
The bad: Fumbles. Drops. Bell had a career-worst four fumbles and lost a career-worst three fumbles. Bush was worse, losing five fumbles (second-worst in his career) and losing four fumbles, the most he had lost in a season in his career. For Bush, it was especially rough because he had guaranteed he wouldn’t fumble again after losing to Pittsburgh and then fumbled twice more. The drops were worse. Bush had nine drops and his drop percentage of 11.4 percent was the second-worst among qualifying players in the league. Bell dropped six passes and his 8.8 percent drop rate was eighth-worst in the NFL. This became a major issue for the Lions, as the drops often stalled drives.
The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Bush is slated to have a $4.5 million cap number next season, 7.75 percent of the team’s current offensive cap. Montell Owens, who already restructured his contract, is due $1.33 million. Mikel Leshoure, also in the final season of his contract, is at $1,092,693 and Theo Riddick is at $517,750. Joique Bell’s current cap number is unknown since he is a restricted free agent, although he is expected to return. Considering the needs elsewhere for Detroit heading into this offseason, it would be surprising to see the Lions make any major moves here other than ensuring Bell is with the team.
What Coach Caldwell might favor: He might not have much of a choice here. The Lions are locked into Bush and have no reason to not want to bring back Bell. The situation here is somewhat analogous to what he had in Baltimore last season with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The one spot Detroit might add someone is at fullback, as the Lions have none on the roster at this point. The Bush-Bell combination should work well for Caldwell. In three of his four seasons as either a head coach or a coordinator, he has had at least some sort of two-back system -- either Rice and Pierce in Baltimore or Joseph Addai and Donald Brown in Indianapolis.
Potential cuts: The two potential cuts here -- at least among 53-man roster participants -- could be Owens and Leshoure. Owens is a player the Lions brought in to be a special-teams piece before last season, but if Riddick beats him out, he might be expendable. That said, he restructured his contract so he could end up staying. Leshoure is a massive question mark. He played in three games and had two carries this season. The Lions probably won’t make a decision on him until they know what happens with Bell, but if Bell returns, then Leshoure could be looking for a new place to play.
Draft priority: None, as of now. Detroit will likely have four of its backs from last season on the roster. If there is a best player available late in the draft, it could be worth taking a chance on a guy, but the Lions have much bigger needs to address.
Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.