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Lions need defensive talent infusion, can get it in free agency

While a lot of attention is paid to the draft this week because of the Senior Bowl, every team has to make decisions in free agency before they really get to the annual selection of prospects.

And with a potentially decent free-agent class out there at positions of need for Detroit, there are some options for potential free-agent fits. That’s something we address in this Lions Mailbag.

To ask a future question for the mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com or drop me a note on Facebook. And it’s the offseason, so have fun with the questions.

Now, on to Saturday's query.

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It’s still pretty early to really be able to project potential free agents to teams since so many conversations and evaluations on team’s own free agents and the market really start shaping up beginning next week.

But there are names out there that could be intriguing for Detroit. Lions general manager Bob Quinn, unsurprisingly, wants to build his franchise through the draft and then “supplement through free agency,” but he didn’t rule out making some moves if there are players who are worth it.

He showed that last year with some players who worked out (Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Tavon Wilson, Rafael Bush, Johnson Bademosi) and some who didn’t (Geoff Schwartz, Stevan Ridley, Jeremy Kerley).

But is there a player out there Quinn might pursue heavily? Probably. There might be a couple of options at positions where Detroit could use a talent infusion, too. There’s no question Detroit needs playmakers on defense, potentially at every level of it, so that’s where I focused my attention for now.

With that in mind, here are some names to watch. There’s a chance some – or all – end up back with their current teams, but these are some players Detroit should at least investigate.

Logan Ryan, CB, New England: Quinn is going to be familiar with Logan, who spent the past four seasons with the Patriots. He has been a starter in New England for the past two after being drafted in the third round out of Rutgers in 2013. His height is decent for a corner at 5-foot-11, and his 13 interceptions are more than any defensive back on Detroit’s roster other than Glover Quin. He’ll be 26 when next season starts and pairing him with Darius Slay could give Detroit one of the better corner tandems in the league.

Jabaal Sheard, DE, New England: He would be the type of player the Lions would get to try and replace Devin Taylor, Detroit’s own free agent. Like Ryan, he’s a player Quinn will know. Unlike Ryan, he might not be break-the-bank worthy. He has 13 sacks over the past two seasons in New England and 36 sacks in his career. At age 28 when next season starts, he should have a few good years left.

A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston: He came out of nowhere in a contract year to become one of the better corners in the NFL. His height, at 6-feet, is good for what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes. He can also play inside or outside if necessary. He has six career interceptions – not a high number, but more than Slay. Bouye will make really good money this offseason and he’s worth investigating, but I’d be concerned with a player with only one standout year to pay the money he’s going to command.

T.J. McDonald, S, Los Angeles Rams: He has good height at 6-2 and has been reliably healthy, having played all 16 games in two of the past three seasons. He has 60-plus tackles each of the past three years and has good enough speed to cover a lot of ground. At age 26, he would be a good pairing with Quin.

Johnathan Hankins, DT, New York Giants: He’s intriguing for a few reasons. Hankins is a Michigan native (Detroit Southeastern) so coming back to play in the city he grew up in could be enticing. He’s not a great pass-rusher, but at 6-2, 320 pounds, he is a space eater in the middle who could replace Haloti Ngata as a long-term starter whenever he decides to retire. At age 24, he’s a player who could sign a long-term deal and join A’Shawn Robinson to solidify the interior of the Lions' defensive line for years to come.

Abry Jones, DT, Jacksonville: Kyle O'Brien, the Lions' director of player personnel, has familiarity with Jones from his time in Jacksonville. Jones is a young player with room to expand. Unlike Hankins, he’s not likely to command a massive salary, either. He has 5.5 career sacks but has good size and speed at 6-4, 318 pounds. At age 25, he could be another player the Lions could consider pairing with Robinson for a tandem in the future.

Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville: No, Robinson has not electrified the NFL like he did in college at Michigan, but he’d be a likely cheap option who can play special teams. I don’t think this would actually happen, but he’s a player the Lions should at least investigate because of local ties and a shot of adrenaline to the fan base.