Breaking down Detroit's key free-agent decisions
After making the playoffs in 2014, the Detroit Lions took a step back in 2015, which resulted in a major front office and coaching staff overhaul. They finished winning six of their final eight games (nearly seven, if not for Aaron Rodgers’ first miracle of the year), which was good enough for new GM Bob Quinn to retain Jim Caldwell as head coach. With Calvin Johnson’s unexpected retirement and a large amount of expected cap space, here are the moves the Lions should make in free agency.
S Isa Abdul-Quddus
Part of the midseason changes to the staff also resulted in some changes to the starters on the field. Abdul-Quddus (80.1 overall grade) was a benefactor of that, and immediately began paying big dividends. He permanently took over the starting job in the Week 10 upset of Green Bay, and rattled off six straight positively-graded games. He was PFF’s top-graded safety in that time frame, strong in both run defense and pass coverage. At 27 years old, this should be a no brainer.
LB Tahir Whitehead
Another player that benefited from the midseason shakeup is Whitehead (78.4). While his first game as a starter was a disaster, especially in pass coverage, he responded well, grading positively in five of his last six games. Even though next season will be Whitehead’s fifth, his first two seasons were exclusively as a member of the special teams unit. Given that 2016 will be just his third season of real playing time on the defense, resigning the 26-year-old on the rise is a must.
DT Haloti Ngata
Ngata (76.9) was brought in to fill the gap left by Ndamukong Suh, and did so admirably, but not to the tune of $8.5 million. While the Lions would have the cap space to resign him, he just isn’t worth the amount he’ll be asking for. Considering this is an incredibly deep draft class for defensive interior, the Lions will get much better value dipping into that pool. While Ngata was solid in pass-rushing productivity, finishing the season with four sacks, four hits, and 25 hurries on 355 pass rushing snaps, his 6.4 run-stop percentage is close to the NFL’s average. For an aging player past his prime, he’s not worth they high price tag.
DE Jason Jones
Jones (76.6) is a slightly above average pass rusher, but suspect in run defense. When needing to get after the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jay Cutler six times per year, that isn’t such a bad thing. However, he totaled one sack, two hits, and eight hurries against division rivals in 2015. His 9.8 pass-rushing productivity for the season was top 15 in the league, but at the age of 30 and his career-long inconsistencies, the Lions can let Jones walk and look to the draft for an edge defender.
C Alex Mack (Browns)
While Mack (75.5) isn’t technically a free agent, he has the option to opt out of his contract and test the market waters, which seems to be what the Browns’ Pro Bowl center will do. He has three years, $24 million remaining on his deal that guarantees him $8 million. Even at the age of 30, Mack has been a solid center and showed that his gruesome leg injury in 2014 didn’t slow him down. While I normally wouldn’t suggest that a team target a player of his age, the Lions’ center situation is absolutely dreadful if they don’t address the position this offseason.
DE Malik Jackson (Broncos)
Probably one of the most sought after players in free agency will be Malik Jackson (86.9). While Jackson is considered an interior defender, he did play 42.3 percent of his snaps heads up on an OT or on the edge. Jackson has the versatility to replace (and then some) the pass-rushing loss of Jason Jones, while also providing a solid presence stopping the run. While his 2014 campaign was more consistent, Jackson made himself a lot of money at the end of the season and in the playoffs, where he was dominant, grading as the second best 3-4 DE from Week 13 to the Super Bowl.
WR Marvin Jones (Bengals)
With Calvin Johnson’s retirement, Detroit is in desperate need of a No. 1 WR. Golden Tate is a solid No. 2, but has never shown that he can elevate his game to be a consistent top target. The problem with trying to find a No. 1 WR this offseason is two-fold; Alshon Jeffrey is the only FA WR that fits that bill, but per team sources, he will most likely be back with the Bears for 2016, and the draft for WRs is weaker than in past years. Detroit’s best plan of action, for now, is to add a solid No. 2 option in Jones (79.0) to pair with Tate.
OT Cordy Glenn (Bills)
Arguably the best free agent offensive tackles is Cordy Glenn (85.0). He fits the age criteria, while also being one of the top OTs the past three seasons. Glenn allowed just two sacks and two hits this season, and if you ignore his Week 17 debacle versus the Jets, is a solid run-blocker. The Lions’ OT situation is almost as bad as their center situation. Glenn would help solidify the position for several years