The Detroit Lions can officially start discussions with the agents of potential free agents on Monday, the beginning of the legal negotiation period that will likely see a lot of deals agreed upon in principle before the official start of the league year on Wednesday.
So who could the Lions target over the next two-plus days? The Lions will have competition for any top option, but there are positions to focus on and players who likely would receive some early attention. There’s no guarantee the Lions land these players and they wouldn’t have the money to get all of them, but here are some names to pay attention to as options that make sense for Detroit.
1. Safety George Iloka: The Cincinnati starter is a big hitter and would be a good complement to Glover Quin, the Lions’ stalwart at free safety. The Detroit Free Press has reported Iloka is going to be a Detroit target. He has the height and size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) to play down in the box against the run and is rangy enough to make plays in coverage. Iloka has played in 51 games for the Bengals, making 187 tackles and intercepting five passes. He is one of the top safety options in free agency and the Lions have a big hole there with Isa Abdul-Quddus and James Ihedigbo heading to free agency themselves. As a potentially sought-after free agent, Spotrac broke down his potential market value here. He turns 26 this month, so he’s hitting the prime of his career, as well. He would immediately help the Lions have one of the better safety tandems in the league again. Other options to consider: Rodney McLeod, Los Angeles; Eric Weddle, San Diego; Abdul-Quddus.
2. Wide receiver Marvin Jones: An answer to the Calvin Johnson question could dictate how hard the Lions would pursue Jones, who is expected to be one of the top receivers in free agency. Jones is another Cincinnati Bengals player who could be attractive. He has put up better numbers each year of his career, making 134 catches for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons (he missed 2014 due to injury). He’s not Johnson, but he would be a downfield threat on the outside that could be a No. 1A/1B with Golden Tate. Spotrac, in breaking down the market value for Jones, compared his potential contract to Tate’s. He turns 26 this week and like Iloka is hitting the prime of his career. Depending on the interest in Jones, other teams might push to pay top dollar for him, which could be too expensive for the Lions. Other options to consider: Rishard Matthews, Miami; Jermaine Kearse, Seattle; Travis Benjamin, Cleveland.
3. Tackle Kelvin Beachum: General manager Bob Quinn said Riley Reiff will be part of the Lions in 2016. His position, though, is up for debate. Beachum is coming off a torn ACL, so the Lions could potentially grab him at a lower price than they would have otherwise. Of course, had he remained healthy, he might not have made it this close to free agency with Pittsburgh. Taking a tackle coming off an ACL injury could be a risky proposition -- the Lions know that all too well, seeing how long it took LaAdrian Waddle to return last season. But if Beachum checks out, he could be a value grab for the Lions to solidify the line. Signing him also would not preclude Detroit from looking at the position early in April’s draft. Other options to consider: Mitchell Schwartz, RT, Cleveland; Joe Barksdale, RT, San Diego; Kelechi Osemele, RT, Baltimore.
4. Center Alex Mack: Mack is a three-time Pro Bowler and would immediately solidify the middle of the offensive line. He turns 31 this season, but offensive linemen are a little less risky after age 30. Detroit would have to throw a lot of money at Mack to get him and there might be younger, cheaper options out there for the Lions that could still improve the line. Mack could also return to Cleveland and the Lions could easily get outbid here. Detroit also has Travis Swanson on the roster and might not be ready to go away from him yet. Other options to consider: Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville; Ryan Wendell, New England.
5. Cornerback Jerraud Powers: He has familiarity with Jim Caldwell since the two were together in Indianapolis before Caldwell was fired and Powers went to Arizona. Powers understands what it’s like to be the targeted corner, as well, as he played opposite Patrick Peterson with the Cardinals. In 87 career games, he's made 376 tackles and had 11 interceptions. He could be a good upper-midrange option for Detroit, and the Lions need to find a starter opposite Darius Slay. He turns 29 in July. Other options to consider: Sterling Moore, Tampa Bay.