Nov 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre (67) blocks against the Houston Texans in the second quarter at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions Free Agent Target: Andy Levitre

The NFL’s free agency period is still over a month away but the chatter is heating up well in advance of the March 12 opening. One of the hot early names linked to the Detroit Lions has been guard Andy Levitre. With Jairus Byrd a more likely candidate to receive the franchise tag from the Buffalo Bills, Levitre will have the opportunity to test the free agent market.

It’s no wonder that Levitre’s name would come up in Lions circles. They have a need at guard, Martin Mayhew has said the team would be a player in free agency and new running game coach Curtis Modkins spent time working with the running game in Buffalo.

Levitre is already on record as saying he will shop for the best deal on the free agent market. I suppose “best” can be interpreted a couple different ways but that generally means “biggest money.” So should the Lions be willing to sink big money into Levitre to shore up their offensive line?

There is no doubt Levitre would be an improvement over Stephen Peterman but the decision to sign (or not sign) has to come down to what the Lions specifically want to accomplish. If it is to improve in the running game, they might want to take a pass.

Consider Levitre’s Pro Football Focus run block grades:
2012: -0.7
2011: +2.4
2010: +0.2
2009: -8.7

The top ten guard run blocking grades are routinely reach double figures with the very best in the neighborhood of +25.0. Levitre won’t be a road grading guard.

Still, Levitre has proven to be one of the league’s best guards over the last couple seasons, ranking in the top ten in PFF’s guard ratings. He has done it on the strength of his pass blocking (he was the best in 2012 according to PFF) and an extra boost from his play in the screen game.

One of the criticisms of the season by Martin Mayhew was that he felt they allowed too much pressure up the middle of the offensive line. My review of the guards said that Peterman was the big culprit there, and his release says as much from the organization’s perspective. Identifying that as a problem suggests that the Lions could then look to address that issue specifically. Signing Levitre would do that.

The other big question is cost. Ben Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million contract with $15.9 million in guarantees last offseason – that may be a decent comparison. It’s a deal the Lions can make work but it might also mean Levitre is the only significant free agent addition unless the Lions clear more cap space.

How Lions fans form their opinion of the team’s pursuit of Levitre likely comes down to their opinion on what the Lions should do with their offensive line and offensive attack. Signing Levitre would be an overall upgrade over what they have had but it wouldn’t turn them into a power running football team. The Lions wouldn’t suddenly look like the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens, the would look more like they have over the last two season but with better results.

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