If I said the Lions need to go out and get a quarterback this offseason, even the biggest bandwagon-jumper would be able to remind me of the season Matthew Stafford just had. Stafford’s 5,000+ yards passing and 41 touchdowns were both Lion records, but it is in fact true that one of the Lions’ more pressing offseason needs is at the quarterback position.
Stafford had the best season of any quarterback in Lions history this year, so clearly Detroit does not need a new starting signal caller. However, as of right now, Stafford is the only quarterback the Lions have. Backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton are both free agents, and I am not certain the Lions’ front office will resign either player.
But Detroit needs a quarterback. The front office has clearly fallen in love with hometown boy Drew Stanton, who played his college ball just 90 minutes from Ford Field at Michigan State. Stanton has not been called upon often, but has played fine for a third-stringer when needed. That said, I’m not sure if he has shown the front office enough for them to re-sign him in 2012.
Personally, I think that the Lions should keep Stanton and dump Hill, but I don’t see that happening.
First off, I like Shaun Hill. He is an efficient passer who manages the game well and has a solid arm. Unfortunately, Hill just turned 32 two weeks ago. He is a good veteran presence for the Lions offense, but I think he will get an offer from someone else this offseason, with many teams on the market for a quarterback. The Lions have not let on what the quarterback situation will be, but Hill has been a good fill-in for them in the past, so I could see Detroit keeping Hill around for another short-term contract. Then again I could also see Hill costing more than the Lions are willing to pay for a backup.
I don’t think the Lions can go wrong re-signing the two backups they already have, but don’t be surprised to see a new face (either a rookie or free agent) taking snaps for the Lions next training camp.
Ok, so the die-hard Lions fans are reading through my above ramblings saying to themselves “come on now, of all positions where the Lions need help you want to talk about
I know, I know.
Quarterback is not the direst need for the Lions this offseason. While backup quarterback is a very important position (especially with an oft-injured Stafford dropping back 700 times in a season), the Lions have defensive issues that need to be handled first.
The two players that have been starred on my list of free agents are defensive end Cliff Avril and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Avril had a breakout year in 2011 and in the end got some consideration for the Pro Bowl with a team-best 11 sacks. The only problem here is that now Avril will undoubtedly want to get paid, and if he asks for enough money, the Lions may not be able to afford him.
Tulloch, on the other hand, will be cheaper to sign than Avril despite having just as productive of a season. Yes, Tulloch missed several tackles and looked bad in the playoffs against New Orleans, but don’t forget that he led the Lions with 111 tackles this season. Tulloch was one of the Lions most consistent defenders in 2011, and look for him to return to his starting role as middle linebacker in Detroit in 2012.
Other key players who may be gone next year are tackle Jeff Backus, running back Kevin Smith, linebacker DeAndre Levy, and corner Eric Wright, among others (16 total).
Backus has played in Detroit his entire career, and I foresee that he will be back in Honolulu blue for at least the 2012 season, and don’t be surprised if the Lions sign him to more than just a one year deal. Backus improved his game this year, and if the rehab on his torn bicep goes as planned, he should be effective again next year. Watch out for the Lions to draft a left tackle this year though, because Backus is aging and has shown inconsistencies his entire career.
Smith isn’t going to be a Lion next year unless Jahvid Best is wrong about him returning next season. With a healthy Best as well as Mikel Leshoure returning, Detroit has no need for Smith unless they can get him close to the league minimum as their third or fourth string back. If the price is right, maybe the Lions sign him to one more year, but don’t expect it.
Levy is a restricted free agent, which could mean a few different things for the Lions.
First, I must address the long and confusing explanation of a restricted free agent (RFA) in just several words. In short, an RFA is a free agent that can be kept around by matching any offer they receive from another team. So, if Levy is courted by another NFL team and offered a contract of $1.5 million, the Lions could match that amount and keep him. If the Lions choose not to match the deal, they are entitled to draft picks from the team that signed Levy. The round of the pick depends on the amount of money the contract is for.
Levy was good for the Lions this year, finishing second behind Tulloch on the tackle list with 109. He isn’t overwhelming, but plays smart and has good fundamentals. I don’t see him getting a big offer from any other teams, so expect Levy to return along with Tulloch.
Wright was anything but dazzling this year, as Detroit’s secondary struggled mightily as a group. Wright is no doubt included in that group, and took his fair share of criticism. Whether the Lions choose to re-sign Wright or not, their secondary probably needs more help than anything else. I would be very surprised if the Lions don’t either sign a somewhat high profile free agent corner or spend a first or second round pick on a corner this year.
I would expect to see the Lions bring in one or more of the following free agent corners for an offseason workout.
Courtland Finnegan (TEN)
Brandon Carr (KC)
Lardarius Webb (BAL)
Carlos Rogers (SF)
Brent Grimes (ATL)
Adding one of the above players would significantly improve Detroit’s secondary, but the cost would likely be higher than a first or second round pick. Hard to say what the front office will do here, but I like Carr and Rodgers a lot. Finnegan has had some attitude problems over the years and might fit in well with the “Bad Boys” attitude in Detroit’s locker room, plus he played for Jim Schwartz in Tennessee before Schwartz came to Detroit.
The bottom line is this: don’t expect much from the Lions this offseason. They won’t make a bunch of moves, and probably won’t sign more than one big name this free agency. Look for the Lions to use the offseason to get healthy and in shape, and use the draft to get younger in a few positions. I definitely see the Lions drafting at least one offensive lineman since Backus and Dominic Raiola aren’t getting any younger. Also look for the Lions to potentially draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds depending on what they choose to do with Hill and Stanton.
The good news here is that for once, the Lions don’t have to make a bunch of changes to be considered a contender.