Throughout the course of last offseason and in the season, Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew made a plethora of moves to try and improve the Lions.
Some worked. Some didn’t. Here’s a quick primer on some good and bad free agent moves Mayhew made over the past 12 months.
Receiver Golden Tate: The best free-agent signing of the offseason by Detroit – and possibly in the NFL. He led the team in receptions and yards and turned into more than a complement to top receiver Calvin Johnson. He had a Pro Bowl season and led the NFL in yards after catch. He’ll be a valuable asset for the Lions. He was also Detroit’s highest priority free agent and Mayhew landed him.
Defensive end George Johnson: He signed essentially as a camp body and ended up making the roster and having a season that likely saved his career. He provided Detroit with a strong third option at defensive end and a second skilled pass rusher on the outside.
Safety James Ihedigbo: A player who understood Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme and someone who could provide a reliable complement to Glover Quin, Ihedigbo had a standout season for the Lions. He proved to be an upgrade over Louis Delmas, who was released before free agency last season, and gave Detroit one of the top safety tandems in the league to help with one of the top defenses in the league.
Linebacker Josh Bynes: A huge find for the Lions on Baltimore’s practice squad, Bynes turned into a rotational linebacker for Detroit by the middle of the season as well as a good special teams performer. He was a strong complement to Tahir Whitehead and could end up giving Detroit more depth in the future.
Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus: Tate and Ihedigbo had more impact, but Mayhew’s savviest move might have been claiming Abdul-Quddus off waivers during last season’s playoffs. He was a valuable special teams asset to Detroit and showed he could be a future third safety. It was a sly, under-the-radar move that helps make teams into contenders.
Fullback Jed Collins: He had familiarity with what Joe Lombardi wanted to run in Detroit and did an adequate job blocking and as a short yardage rusher.
Defensive end Darryl Tapp: He was initially cut by the Lions after the preseason but quickly re-signed and became a valuable member of Detroit’s defensive line. He was a guy who could fill in at tackle if need be as well as a rotational backup to Jason Jones.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis: The Lions picked him up before the 2013 season and then chose to re-sign him prior to 2014 to a one-year deal. It was a smart move considering he once again provided stability and consistent play to Detroit’s secondary. He’s a high-character guy who is also a leader and a positive influence. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him back again in 2015.
Kicker Matt Prater: He surprisingly came available after being cut by Denver and he turned into a consistent kicking option for a team desperately in need of one. It was the luckiest signing of the year by Mayhew. Prater made 20 of 26 field goals after being picked up.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew: Considering the way Detroit used its tight ends this season, bringing back Pettigrew in free agency with $8 million guaranteed seems a bit steep. He continued to be Detroit’s best blocking tight end, but he wasn’t used much in the passing game. For how the Lions used him, they could have gone in a cheaper direction, but that is more on the coaches than Mayhew or Pettigrew. To be fair, this was before the team drafted Eric Ebron, though.
Receiver Kevin Ogletree: The Lions re-signed him on the first day of free agency to a one year deal with $100,000 guaranteed. That isn’t much money for a receiver who played a lot for Detroit in 2013, but he didn’t play a down for the Lions in 2014 before being released.
Center Dominic Raiola: The Lions didn’t quite get a good return on Raiola this season after bringing him back, even if at the time re-signing him seemed like a smart move. He regressed in 2014 from what had been one of his best seasons in 2013. He was also suspended for a game, although there was some benefit since the Lions had him mentor Travis Swanson. He won’t be back in 2015.