The Detroit Lions are going to have a decent amount of money to spend when the new league year opens Wednesday afternoon. No, they don’t have go-crazy cap space to play with, but there’s enough there that Detroit should be able to fill some of its holes with quality talent.
And general manager Bob Quinn has shown he’s willing to bring in vets to secure what he deems his biggest areas of need – especially when it comes to potential difference-makers. He sees free agency as the better way to bolster there, or at least the safer.
“The NFL resume is huge. Those guys have been in the league, most of them
four years plus because they’re hitting unrestricted free agency,” Quinn said at the combine. “So, there’s plenty of tape and stuff you can watch against NFL competition if they’re making plays at whatever position they are.
“That’s a little bit, I’d say, a safer bet than drafting anybody from the first round down to the seventh because the draft is sporadic. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. We try to do as much work as possible to try to mitigate those misses, but yeah, the NFL free agency is more of a safe bet.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at main positions of need and three options at each spot – a high-end, mid-range and budget possibility for each:
Trey Flowers: He’s perhaps the best edge-rushing target out there and is familiar with Patricia’s defensive scheme. The bigger question is whether Detroit will get priced out of the market here, but from a fit standpoint and understanding the defense, he’s the sensible choice to bolster the defense.
Preston Smith: He’s much more of a linebacker but has shown he can get the quarterback, something Detroit desperately needs. He has had at least four sacks every season of his career and has had two eight-sack seasons. He also has intercepted at least one pass in each of the last three years.
Cameron Wake: This isn’t necessarily a cheap option as much as it is a veteran one. Patricia has often praised what he has seen from Miami so he and Quinn would know Wake very well. This would seem like a long-shot and a short-term solution at age 37, but he has put up double-digit sacks in three of his last five seasons. There’s also the possibility of bringing him in to mentor Romeo Okwara and whatever pass-rushers they bring in during the draft.
Landon Collins: It is rare a Pro Bowler in his prime reaches free agency. He would be a massive splash signing for Detroit and cost a bundle of money – potentially limiting the Lions elsewhere in the market. But he would immediately shore up the secondary, allow Quandre Diggs to move to free safety and give Tracy Walker the three-safety role. Or even possibly give the option of moving Diggs to the slot in nickel packages. Collins has had 96-plus tackles every season of his career.
Kareem Jackson: He’s a bit older – he’ll be 31 in April – so he might not command the massive money a top-end defensive back would. But he has played corner and safety, has had at least one interception every year since 2014 and has played in at least 10 games in every season of his career. So durability is there, as is production.
Pierre Desir: Maybe not a real budget option, but he’s an intriguing player with some length having a 6-foot-5 wing span. He emerged as a starter in Indianapolis and could be less expensive than other corners. The Lions could bring him in and have him compete with Nevin Lawson for the spot opposite Darius Slay.
Jamison Crowder: The Lions might be searching for a slot option and Crowder would make sense. He has been productive (66 catches in 2017 and 67 in 2018) and could be had for cheaper than normal because of some injury questions. The Lions never found a replacement for Golden Tate, and he could fit that.
Jermaine Kearse: It’s not likely Kearse will cost a lot, but he’s going to know Darrell Bevell’s offense from their shared time in Seattle. The Jets didn’t seem to work out for him, but he could be a reasonable No. 3 option in Detroit.
Adam Humphries: The 26-year-old has shown steady improvement every year in Tampa, including a career-best 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns last year. In a not-great receiver class, he might command more than he should – but if the market develops slowly, the Lions might be able to grab him at a reasonable price.
Tyler Eifert: When he’s healthy, he’s a difference-maker. Problem is, he never really has been healthy. If the Lions are willing to take that risk at a cost, he’s worth taking a flier on. Just be warned, he never has played a full season in his career and hasn’t appeared in more than eight games in a season since 2015.
Geoff Swaim: The Dallas tight end showed potential last season, his first as the starter after Jason Witten’s retirement. He had 26 catches for 242 yards before getting injured nine game into the season. But he caught 81.3 percent of his targets, so at the least he could be a reliable option.
Logan Thomas: In 2016, the Lions signed Thomas to the practice squad with the plans of converting him from quarterback to tight end. He lasted two days in Detroit before being signed to Buffalo’s 53-man roster, where he developed over two-plus seasons. Bob Quinn liked the idea then. Would he like it now after minimal production in 2017 and 2018 as he learned the position? He’d be a cheap option more than likely but potentially one worth exploring in a largely unexciting market.
Josh Johnson: He has been a bit of everywhere in his career without starting a ton of games, so he’s familiar with learning offenses fast. He can play well enough to get you out of a game if necessary and would be a good sounding board for Matthew Stafford. He’s also likely to be cheaper than perhaps a Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown, who could fill similar roles as a Stafford helper and groomer for a potential rookie.
Austin Davis: He can play a little bit (2,001 yards, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions in 2014) but is best suited as a backup. At age 29, he could push Stafford a little but likely wouldn’t challenge him. He’s a decent mid-range backup option, in some ways similar to Matt Cassel but less experienced.
Garrett Gilbert: The best passer in the Alliance of American Football should at least get a camp look somewhere, and Quinn has been big on scouting the league. Gilbert has the tools and while he’s not going to unseat Stafford, he’s a younger option at 27 that could make sense. He was with the Lions for part of the 2015 offseason and has some New England ties as well.