ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The 2016 season is still going strong, but some people are always looking to the future. And with only one guaranteed home game left -- New Year’s Day against the Green Bay Packers -- some players might be playing for the Detroit Lions for the final time.
Who might those players be?
We delve into that a little bit in today’s Lions Mailbag. To ask a question for a future mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at email@example.com or check in (and follow) on Facebook here.
Now, onto today’s question.
Matt from Ferris State University asks via Facebook: Which players now are on their last year of their deals, who are about to enter free agency? Will we be able to keep all of our own big names? And do you think anyone retires?
Here are the players in the last years of their current deals and would be unrestricted free agents: quarterback Dan Orlovsky, running back Joique Bell, wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Andre Roberts, tight ends Tim Wright, Clay Harbor and Matthew Mulligan, right tackle Riley Reiff, right guard Larry Warford, defensive ends Devin Taylor and Armonty Bryant, defensive tackles Stefan Charles and Tyrunn Walker, linebackers Jon Bostic and Josh Bynes, cornerback Asa Jackson, safety Rafael Bush and long-snapper Don Muhlbach.
Additionally, the Lions are going to potentially be in a position to offer contract extensions to quarterback Matthew Stafford, center Travis Swanson, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and have to make a fifth-year option decision on tight end Eric Ebron. But all of those players are under contract for the 2017 season.
So let’s stick with the free agents here.
Three players -- Boldin, Orlovsky and Muhlbach -- are at ages where retirement could be a possibility. Of the three, Boldin is the one getting the most work for the Lions and at this point, if he feels he can play another season, Detroit should be interested in retaining him. The Lions have potential replacements already in the pipeline in rookies Jake Rudock and Jimmy Landes. But both Orlovsky and Muhlbach have roles on the roster, so it’ll be interesting decisions for general manager Bob Quinn.
Other than those three, the highest-profile players to look at are Roberts, Reiff, Warford, Bryant and Bynes and Detroit could theoretically have room to bring them all back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some end up in other uniforms next season.
Roberts has carved out a nice role in the Lions offense and has shown value as a returner as well. Bryant is coming off a knee injury, so the Lions could potentially bring him back on a lesser deal. Bynes is a good depth linebacker who can fill in when necessary, a core special teams player if need be and is a good fit for Teryl Austin’s defense. So he could return as well.
The biggest questions are Reiff and Warford. Both have played well this season, but could command a lot of money on the open market if they choose to test free agency. The other question with Reiff is if he is fine playing right tackle or prefers playing left tackle, which is more lucrative. Rookie Taylor Decker has shown he’s going to be the left tackle of the near future at least for the Lions, which means the only way Detroit keeps Reiff is if he’s willing to play right tackle.
The question with Warford is how the Lions view him comparatively to Laken Tomlinson and Joe Dahl and whether either player -- or someone not currently on the roster -- could fill in well enough for Warford if he were to depart. At this point, it’s kind of an unknown question, but considering Detroit has not extended Warford yet, it would trend that it’s going to be, at best, an offseason discussion.
Bush is an interesting case because he has an obvious role in Detroit’s secondary, but it isn’t a starting one. The Lions could view him as a potential 2017 starter, but they have both Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew under contract, so it might depend on what type of deals Bush might be able to land elsewhere. He’s played well enough that he could definitely find a new home if it didn’t work out for him to stay in Detroit.
The rest of the players, at this point, are either going to be situational signings or it is too soon to give any sort of indication on their futures. But it’s something the Lions are going to have to start digging into within the next six to eight weeks -- no matter how the rest of the season plays out.