Mayhew says Pettigrew a priority free agent

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Caldwell didn't want to talk about the future of free agent Brandon Pettigrew in Detroit on Thursday, but a day later, his general manager made the priority of trying to bring Pettigrew back clear.

They would like to do so.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew called Pettigrew “definitely” a priority free agent on Friday and while he didn’t rule out using the franchise tag on the tight end, he didn’t seem too high on using it on Pettigrew, either.

“Never say never,” Mayhew said. “You never know how these things are going to go. If we chose to do that, we could create the room to make that happen.”

Mayhew did indicate figuring out a new contract for Ndamukong Suh, currently scheduled to make $22.4 million against the cap in 2014, will not play a role in determining whether the team brings back Pettigrew.

He did say he planned on meeting with Pettigrew's agent at the NFL combine, which is typical when a team expresses interest in one of their own free agents that they would like to bring back.

Pettigrew's value comes from his ability to both catch passes and block, an increasingly rare skill in an era where tight ends in college and in the NFL are more viewed as pass catchers than guys who can both line up on the line of scrimmage and split out wide or in the slot.

Often, players can do one of the two things well, but being able to do both is something that will make him valuable if he ends up hitting free agency next month and doesn't re-sign immediately with Detroit.

“A guy like Pettigrew is well-rounded and can do a lot of different things,” Mayhew said. “At that position, you have to have a guy who can block and a guy who can catch the ball and it’s easier to do with one guy.

“But you can do it with multiple players doing different roles. We look at each one of them on merit on what they can do to help us win football games.”

If Pettigrew doesn't return, the Lions might have to go that route. Joseph Fauria is more of a receiving tight end who can line up outside or in the slot, but isn't as effective as a blocker on the line of scrimmage. Michael Williams was on injured reserve last season but is more of a blocker and never really had a big pass-catching season in college at Alabama.