The Detroit Lions removed themselves from the salary cap crunch last week by releasing two of their veterans, Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas, but it still does not mean the team is planning on using its franchise tag this season.
There just isn’t reason to. The team locked up center Dominic Raiola to a one-year deal. It won’t use the tag on defensive end Willie Young. The only player who could conceivably earn the tag is tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but considering the likely price on that will be more than $6 million for one year, it seems unlikely the team would use it.
When general manager Martin Mayhew was asked about the franchise tag at the Senior Bowl, he gave his usual noncommittal answer about potentially using it, saying the team needed to evaluate various things with its unrestricted free agents.
And as good as Pettigrew has been at times in the Detroit system, he is not one of the top five tight ends in the NFL, so he isn’t going to be worth that type of price tag. While the tight end market might not be massive -- Dennis Pitta from Baltimore could be the top option out there -- there are players who could fit what Detroit wants and who would come at a potentially cheaper rate.
One of those is Pettigrew, which is another reason to not tag him. But Dustin Keller is an intriguing free agent if he can return from his knee injury suffered last preseason. Also, Pitta has experience with Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell.
The draft has some intriguing tight end options as well. So those avenues could be the way the team maneuvers when it comes to filling that spot.
Meanwhile, and not to jump too far ahead, but the talk of the franchise tag will likely be much heavier a season from now, especially if defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh does not sign a long-term extension this offseason. Then, this conversation would reach an entirely different category.