A huge need at a position combined with another team’s big time player’s impending free agency will always create a storm within a fanbase. That’s what happened with a lot of Detroit Lions fans with Jairus Byrd’s contract with the Buffalo Bills set to expire.
Those dreams have been dashed by the news that the Bills will use the franchise tag to retain Byrd’s services. However, the Buffalo News is reporting that the Bills will use the non-exclusive franchise tag which means Byrd will be free to negotiate a long-term deal with other clubs. If an agreement is reached, the Bills will have the right to match the offer or receive two first round draft picks in return. Byrd would have been an attractive option as a free agent, but the cost is too steep when factoring in the draft picks that would be sent back to the Bills.
But that isn’t where this story ends concerning the Detroit Lions. The Bills using the franchise tag on Byrd means they won’t be using it on guard Andy Levitre. Last month, I profiled Levitre as a possible free agency target for the Lions and there is no doubt he would be an improvement over the since-released Stephen Peterman.
The question becomes how the Lions fit Levitre into their overall plan for the offensive line. It seems certain that Gosder Cherilus will leave via free agency and while he is a tackle and Levitre is a guard, the two positions are likely linked in helping to determine who starts across the line. If the Lions sign Levitre there is no possibility that Riley Reiff will play guard. If Jeff Backus indeed returns, that means Reiff will start at right tackle. If Backus decides to retire, Reiff will have first crack at the left tackle position leaving a competition for Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard on the right side. A further variable is next month’s draft in which the Lions could add a tackle like Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.
While there are a lot of moving parts to the Lions’ offensive line situation, signing Levitre would give the Lions a solid pair of guards for the foreseeable future and represent an offensive line improvement as a whole. It remains to be seen how interested the Lions might actually be in Levitre, but the Bills slapping Byrd with the franchise tag means there is still a chance.