2014 Team Needs: Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions came into the year with a talented team that has underperformed and the trend continued in the 2013 season. After beating the Chicago Bears in Week 10 their record stood at 6-3 and it looked like they would be a sure bet to make it to the postseason. But Detroit managed to collapse — winning only one more game the rest of the season — and missed the playoffs befre seeing their head coach fired.
The roster’s top talent has come at a price with three high draft picks from the old CBA; Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh have a combined 2014 cap figure of just over $51m. This year, however, they have more cap room than they have had in a while, partly due to the expected increase of the cap.
Potential Cap Casualties
With the Lions already releasing Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas to gain $11.1m in cap space, they do not have another single player they could release that could give them a significant chunk back. Instead of releasing players, it is more likely they extend Suh’s contract, but there are a few who could be let go to find a couple more million here and there.
– Jason Jones ended up playing only 87 snaps before he suffered a ruptured patellar tendon. If the Lions cut him they will save $2m for a player who missed nearly all of last season.
– The Lions can save $1.95m if they decide to cut Leroy Harris and find a cheap backup guard/center.
– If the Lions cut Montell Owens, they will save $1.2m for a player who only played two snaps for them last season.
These three players would save the Lions close to $5.2m that could be used to help fill in some needs for them.
The No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Johnson has been difficult for the Lions to fill, they have tried in the past to find a solution. They have drafted both Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the past few drafts and brought in the veteran Burleson, but none have panned out due to multiple reasons. All these failed moves meant they had to roll Kris Durham out as their second wide receiver to start 13 games, unfortunately Durham struggled and graded out as the third-lowest wide receiver in 2013.
Free agent fix: All of the top wide receivers are expected to receive a deal and it would be a surprise if the Lions spend big money to sign one. Instead, the Lions could turn their attention to a talented young wide receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders will be cheaper but still has the upside to be a legit weapon on the other side of Calvin Johnson.
At the start of the season, Chris Houston and Darius Slay where slated to be the starting corners. Houston had his struggles in 2013 after a productive last couple of seasons. The Lions have to hope last season was just a bad year and he can come back into form since they gave him a five-year, $25m deal. In the first two weeks of the season Slay was benched at halftime because of poor performance and replaced by Rashean Mathis. After two weeks Mathis took the starting job form Slay and had a resurgent year, it will be surprising if Mathis can reproduce another season like 2013, there has to come a time where age catches up with him. The Lions will hope that Slay will be able to improve on his rookie season and become the starting corner they hoped they drafted at the top of the second round and, while Slay had his struggles, he did start to show some improvement. In his last two games he played (Week 13 vs. Green Bay and Week 17 at Minnesota) Slay graded out at +3.4. The Lions should be looking to bolster their defensive backfield since they have no idea if Slay will be ready to play.
Free agent fix: The Lions may want to bring in a corner who can start on the outside and also play in the slot effectively. A player they could target is Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn is only 26 and has developed into an effective outside and slot corner who would be valuable playing against the multiple wide receiver sets the division rival Packers like to play.
With Brandon Pettigrew never living up to first round draft status and becoming a free agent, the Lions have a big hole to fill at tight end though Joseph Fauria became a valuable weapon in the red zone. We all know about Fauria’s giant frame, but we don’t know how he will perform as the No. 1 tight end. He has shown glimpses that the potential is there, especially if Fauria is able to be a consistent run blocker. With Fauria being the only relatively known quantity, the Lions should be looking to add a second tight end who will be a good complement to him.
Free agent fix: With teams still looking to find two tight ends, one being the standard in-line tight end and the second being the tight end who can be flexed out more and create mismatches against the secondary. The focus for the Lions could be on Jermichael Finley who, with his injury history, will be cheaper than Dennis Pitta but can still create mismatches against smaller defensive backs. The other player who the Lions could look at his Ben Hartsock as he is the best run blocking tight end in the game and would be able to provide the Lions with the ability to run out of two tight end sets effectively and create a major advantage in the run game.
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