Breaking down Detroit’s key free-agent decisions

John Kosko identifies the Lions' top free-agent decisions, including who to re-sign, let walk, and target.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

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.

Re-sign

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.

Let walk

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.

Target

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

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • nigga

    nigger

    • Ryan

      Smh

    • Reallydawg

      Hordor? But for racists/redskin fans.

  • Tbone

    I agree with everything on here.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Only someone who just go fired from ESPN and needed a new job would say that.

  • RandomGuy

    gonna draft yet ANOTHER DT?

    • Richard Stanczak

      YES. Mayhew deserved to be fired for passing on Aaron Donald in 2014. Fairley was unreliable and Suh was likely to walk or be unaffordable for the Lions. Believe it or not, this is one of the Lions weakest positions on defence.

  • sofire

    How much money do you think they’re going to have? Mack, Jackson, and Glenn are all probably going to get top 5 contracts for their positions. I think they should re-sign Isa, Tahir, Tyrunn; let Ngata, Jones, Tapp walk; target Glenn, Trumaine Johnson, Chris Ivory, Jack Crawford, Travis Benjamin; then in the draft they can target a DT and a big WR like De’Runnya Wilson or Josh Doctson

  • Richard Stanczak

    I agree with your two to keep and wish that the Lions would have made an effort to keep Ramirez as a short term C and G depth. Also agree with the two more to let go. However, the guys you are listing as targets are really top tier FAs and not realistic IMO. I would prefer targeting Ian Williams DT, Mitchell Schwartz RT, and Rishard Mathews WR. Might have some money left for some secondary depth too.
    Trumaine Johnson CB is the one high cost FA I would consider going after…but only after they have extended Darius Slay.

  • Mark1515

    Why Jones? Pair him with Tate and they would have no size outside, and when Stafford misses, a lot of the time its high. Sounds like problem waiting to happen

  • straw walker

    I am thinking the Lions go after Seattle’s WR Kearse..Here’s why; He and Tate are friends, and Tate will help the Lions tutor him.
    The Lions need another big WR.

  • A A Ron

    I think Detroit should pick up Antonio brown and Julio jones at wr and see if we can’t get a JJ watt at the d line

    • crosseyedlemon

      And bring Barry Sanders out of retirement while your at it….lol.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Lions always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. The pic for this article says it all.

    • Richard Stanczak

      Yes, the Ngata trade was an awful and desperate move. Mayhew was trying to save face…and his job. Failed on both counts.

  • MarthasBeefCurtains

    Why everyone in the media keeps disrespecting GA’s ability when his numbers in the games when CJ was out were fantastic is mind boggling. On top of that, how many games were his numbers better than CJ’s in games they were both active? Just sayin’…

    • Mike

      Calvin was still drawing a double team when Tate was having big games. Tate only played one or two games without Calvin. Tate isn’t a downfield deep threat like most #1 receivers.

      • MarthasBeefCurtains

        You’d think that, but in ’14 CJ missed 3+ games with a high ankle sprain.
        Which is amazing…high ankle sprain-only 3 games… but was on the sideline a lot that season cuz he never got back to even 85% and was in a lot of pain. He still had over 1k yds, (what a beast!). That left GT w/dbl teams and he still had 1.3k+ yds. By mid-season That’s what the announcers where talking about at every broadcast; “What a great signing for Detroit…”, “what is the defense going to do to stop him…”, “can he keep that pace while Calvin is still, obviously, in pain…”, etc,… I was pissed they didn’t try and use that with the play calling last season; I’m sure the OL disaster didn’t help; but, holy shit, what a waste.

        • Chuck Finbar Normandburg

          This is why I was yelling at my tv all season to try the deep ball with Tate.

  • Cory Atheist Finnie

    what about a cb to cover for mathis ?? i say they go after trumaine from the rams .. wouldnt mind talking to travathen on denver .. draft a dt in the first rd and ot in the second or vice versa

    • Chuck Finbar Normandburg

      Nevin Lawson did a good job filling in last year, and they hope Alex Carter can step up.

      • Cory Atheist Finnie

        is carter fast enough to be cb ? i thought they were moving him to safety ? we got good cap space and trumaine from the rams is solid

        • Chuck Finbar Normandburg

          Brikett said the lions are trying to target Iloka from Cincy at saftey. They drafted him with the hope to replace Mathis. I think they also thought they were getting someone who measures up with Richard Sherman. Mayhew only liked drafting CBs around 4.5 or faster.

          • Cory Atheist Finnie

            he’s got the height for a top notch cb but is he ready to step in as the starting cb ? no experience yet .. i would love to see lloka from cincy but still get a cb with some playing time .. i hope with the first rd pick we grab a dt or ot .. wr isnt needed with the first rd pick ..

          • Chuck Finbar Normandburg

            DT is actually really deep this year so you can grab someone in the 2nd or 3rd who has the skills to go in the 1st, plus Judon who is a beast is projected in the 6th or 7th rounds. That being said I think the Lions go with Ragland and address the OL in FA.

  • Barry Phillips

    Don’t forget that the Lions need a starting QB as well!!! With Stafford’s inconsistencies, he is a 2nd string QB at best!!!