Free agency is set to begin at 4 pm on Tuesday. So it is fitting that the final installment of Detroit Lions Free Agent Focus will be published right up before the start of the new league year. This fifth and final issue of 2014 focus on two position groups: tight ends and offensive line. Although the Lions finished second behind only the Denver Broncos for fewest sacks given up, the team may look to add more depth or find future replacements for current aging starters. With Brandon Pettigrew, the starting tight end for the past five seasons, set to be a free agent, that leaves the current roster with four tight ends with a combined 29 career receptions. Joseph Fauria was a nice find as an undrafted free agent last season, but was seldom used outside of the redzone before Pettigrew was injured and has plenty to develop in blocking and route running, so tight end is another current need for the team. So, finally, the final list of free agents that would make sense in Detroit.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions:
Pros: Familiar with the team, had a good bounce-back season.
Cons: Has had inconsistencies in the past.
Pettigrew has been a cause of debate amongst the fan base in Detroit. The debate on whether he should be re-signed or shown the door has been split down the middle, but does he deserve to be brought back to Detroit? At the right price, yes he does deserve another contract from the team that drafted him. The 2012 season was just an awful season for Pettigrew, plagued by dropping passes and fumbling the football. The 2013 season, however, saw a much improved Pettigrew. After a poor start in the season opener against Minnesota, Pettigrew settled right in, catching tough passes he would not have caught in previous years. Pettigrew also helped the running game improve with his blocking skills, as you could also see a vast difference in the run game after he got hurt week 15 versus Baltimore. Contrasting reports have been made on the team’s desires to keep Pettigrew as well as Pettigrew’s asking price, and a small majority seems negative. However, it is expected, and should be expected, that Pettigrew will be on the short-list for Detroit in filling the tight end spot.
Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers:
Pros: Great athlete, has ability.
Cons: Hasn’t lived up to potential, suffered major injury last season.
Jermichael Finley has been linked as a potential “cheap” free agent signing, considered to only get a one year “prove-it” deal on the free agent market. How could a good athlete like this only manage to garner a one year deal? Well, it could be the fact that he suffered a horrifying neck injury last season that could very well have ended his career. Add that to never living up to his full potential, and this becomes a great risk for any team thinking of signing him, even with receiving a smaller salary. Talent sometimes trumps everything in the NFL, as it may with Finley, but the risk may be too high. May get a look from the Lions, but the team may have learned their lesson with players like Ryan Broyles.
Evan Dietrich-Smith (C), Green Bay Packers:
Pros: Versatile, solid starter.
Cons: Has been in and out of the starting lineup in Green Bay.
Dietrich-Smith is better known as the guy that Lions DT Ndamukong Suh stomped on Thanksgiving back in 2011. But besides that, he has been solid as a starter and a backup player. Can play both center and guard, two positions that could be opened within the next year or two in Detroit, so there is plenty of value there. The Packers may look to re-sign Dietrich-Smith due to their offensive line being a question mark, but it would be very understandable if Detroit could make a run at him as well.
Rodger Saffold (OT-OG), St. Louis Rams:
Pros: Versatile, very good starter.
Cons: Often injured.
Saffold has played very well at both left and right tackle since being drafted 33rd overall by the Rams in 2010. However, that’s when he has been in the lineup. He has missed 20 of a possible 64 starts in his four-year career, and also suffered a minor, but still scary, neck injury in the 2012 season opener vs Detroit. But, as with Finley, ability trumps everything, and Saffold’s ability to play every offensive line position except center makes him very valuable. However, Saffold would be a reserve in Detroit for next season, and that may not bode well with him.
The Lions currently have about $12 million in salary cap space, and are expected to get more space when a deal is reached with Ndamukong Suh on an extension. How they plan to fill that space will remain a mystery until free agency begins. This period does remain to be a important one, as the actions the Lions take will build the strategy for the draft in May.
Quick notes on previous issues of Free Agent Focus: CB Sam Shield and WR Jeremy Maclin have re-signed with their respective teams.