The first wave of free agency has slowed down at most positions and while there are still good players and big names out there, now is when bargains start to present themselves a bit more readily.
That will happen more often as the days continue and more positions have their top-tier free agents head off to other places, setting what the market should be. So how did the Detroit Lions do through the first wave of free agency?
The Lions handled one of their biggest free agency-caused holes on the offensive line by making their biggest signing: right tackle Rick Wagner. He’ll immediately replace Riley Reiff, who moved from left tackle last season and is now headed to Minnesota. The spot next to Wagner, at right guard, is still in question.
Detroit handled depth issues well, but releasing DeAndre Levy created a much larger hole to fill. Linebacker Paul Worrilow, who described himself as an “off-the-ball inside backer” more than closer to the line of scrimmage, will provide competition for Tahir Whitehead in the middle and possibly be part of a Levy replacement. Defensive end Cornelius Washington is a lineman who can play inside and outside as a Jason Jones-type edge-setting defensive end and Akeem Spence is a defensive tackle who could push A’Shawn Robinson and Khyri Thornton for a starting spot.
Now the Lions have to figure out where to go from here. There are still a lot of holes left.
The most glaring remains in the front seven, where Detroit needs at least one true playmaker to improve the pass rush and a depleted linebacker corps. There are some high-level free agency options, but Detroit has not appeared to publicly be in play for the still-unsigned Dont’a Hightower, Zach Brown, Johnathan Hankins, Dontari Poe and Datone Jones. If Detroit landed any of those players, it would be a boost for its defense.
While there is a lot of time left, this year’s front seven free-agent market for the Lions is starting to feel like the offensive line did last year. General manager Bob Quinn eschewed overpaying for a free agent on the offensive line and ended up making it a focal point in the draft, where he landed two starters in left tackle Taylor Decker and left guard Graham Glasgow. A third drafted lineman, Joe Dahl, could end up competing for the starting right guard spot.
That leads to the next spot the Lions could look to: offensive line. Wagner is signed and T.J. Lang visited earlier this week and hasn’t signed with a team yet. Considering Quinn’s penchant for building on the lines first, bringing in Lang would constitute a second splash move, fortifying the offensive line and likely sending the Lions into a heavy defense mode in April’s draft. Even if the Lions don’t end up nabbing Lang -- which would complete an actual upgrade of the right side of the line from Reiff and Larry Warford -- then don’t be surprised if there’s a low-priced veteran brought in to give some competition for camp to push for a depth spot.
After the front seven and offensive line, the Lions still have holes at tight end, wide receiver, safety and running back. Not all of those will be covered in free agency, but tight end and receiver are spots where the franchise could still make moves in the next few days.
Jared Cook, the now-former Green Bay Packers tight end, remains a free agent and would be an intriguing pull -- although that would lead to some questions about Eric Ebron’s long-term future as the Lions decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option. Darren Fells also was scheduled to visit Friday. Luke Willson and Mychal Rivera are potentially cheaper blocking tight end options to fill that role.
At receiver, the Lions had been initially linked with Andre Holmes and brought in Philly Brown for a visit. This is a free-agency position that has a lot of depth and one where Detroit could be looking to add throughout the next few months instead of the next few days. Last season, the Lions signed Andre Caldwell, Andre Roberts and Anquan Boldin in May, June and July, respectively. Boldin and Roberts ended up being Detroit’s Nos. 3 and 4 receivers.
This is a position where re-signings could happen, too. Boldin has not made a decision on retirement and Roberts remains a free agent. Quinn’s short history has shown he’s willing to let that play out throughout the summer. Even Jeremy Kerley, the team’s next receiver signing after Marvin Jones last year, didn’t come until over a week into free agency.
So the Lions are likely to do this as things move from phase one of free agency to phase two: Look for good deals, maybe investigate a few of the higher-tier players still available and start to figure out where things might be more beneficial for them in the draft.