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, and analyze what worked and what didn't before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is a mere seven or so months away.
Today, the series continues with offensive tackles.
2014 free agents: Jason Fox
The good: This starts with LaAdrian Waddle, the massive right tackle the Lions were surprised to find as a free agent after last April's draft. Detroit quickly grabbed him and while the initial plan might have been to bring him along slowly, he was forced into the lineup after injuries to Fox and Corey Hilliard. By the end of the season, he turned into an entrenched starter at right tackle and the likely future at the position for the Lions. He graded out as the 13th best right tackle in the league during the regular season by Pro Football Focus. He was charged with 17 quarterback hurries -- not great -- but also no sacks, which is strong for a tackle. Pretty good overall for a rookie thrown into the lineup midseason. Riley Reiff also had a decent season at left tackle, where he was still growing into the position, although he had bouts of inconsistency depending on the opponent.
The bad: Start with the health of the tackles. All four of Detroit's tackles had some sort of injury during the season -- whether they missed part of a game like Reiff against Cincinnati or a good chunk of the season like Fox or Hilliard. Of all the positions on the Lions, this had the most consistent rotation because of injuries. Reiff's sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus, were somewhat concerning. He allowed seven sacks, tied for 16th in the NFL, and was 15th in quarterback hurries, with 34. Otherwise, the Lions received good production from this position for the majority of the season.
The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Entering the third season of his rookie contract and his second year as the starting left tackle, Reiff has a number of $2,180,100. Hilliard, entering the final season of his deal, has a cap number of $1,900,000. Waddle has a cap number of $498,333. Hilliard has a $350,000 roster bonus due in 2014 and a $15,000 workout bonus. The Lions will likely add a fourth tackle somewhere along the line, either in free agency or through the draft.
What Caldwell might favor: Tough to say here, and it might not matter. There is no true blueprint for what Caldwell might want and the Lions brought back offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, so it'll probably be status quo here. Detroit could add a tackle through the draft or free agency as we'll cover below, but the starters seem set.
Potential cuts: Likely none, although if Detroit chooses to sign Fox, maybe they would consider releasing Hilliard. Then again, Hilliard has familiarity with Caldwell from his time in Indianapolis and is a good tackle who can play both on the left and the right. Reiff, Hilliard and Waddle should all at least be in camp if not on the final 53-man roster. There is stability here.
Draft priority: Not early. Unless someone of value falls to them in the third or fourth round, it is tough to see Detroit taking a tackle early considering Reiff and Waddle are the likely future at both tackle spots for the team. He's a local guy, but someone like Michael Schofield, who can play both guard and tackle, could be an intriguing mid-round guy who can provide depth across the line.
Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.