NFL Free Agency Grades: Detroit Lions Edition


The most impactful work has been completed and I’m ready to hand out my grade for the Detroit Lions in the 2012 free agency period. The Lions were quite clear with what they wanted to accomplish and they went out and, mostly, did it.

Keep Cliff Avril – Check
Extend Calvin Johnson – Check
Re-sign Jeff Backus – Check
Re-sign Stephen Tulloch – Check

The only thing the Lions lost out on was retaining Eric Wright, and given the contract he signed in Tampa the Lions were right to say good-bye. It wouldn’t be tough to argue that he was the fifth priority behind the four mentioned above. The team did sign Jacob Lacey but he will not be an improvement for the Lions secondary. He may provide quality depth but the Lions still have the same need they had earlier in the free agency process. However, no team can fill every hole, especially a team like the Lions with salary cap constraints.

Using the franchise tag on Avril isn’t ideal but it accomplishes the goal of ensuring he is on the field for the Lions in 2012. At worst, Avril and the Lions are in a similar position a year down the road. I’ll take that over the alternatives.

Bringing back Jeff Backus has been lauded as the prudent move. The Lions know they have to find a long-term replacement but Backus is more than capable of holding down the left tackle position until the team find the answer. With more pressing needs coming out of the 0-16 black hole, the Lions can’t be faulted for kicking the left tackle can down the road. They haven’t dragged their feet on replacing Backus, they just haven’t needed to worry about it given the team’s other concerns.

The Lions also deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled Stephen Tulloch. Financials have not been released but is unlikely Tulloch will receive the full salary he sought since no one else seemed willing to give it to him. The Lions maintained their public interest in re-signing Tulloch while planning contingencies rather than lowering the situation into the mud-slinging exercise we see so often when team and player aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. In the end, a big-money suitor wasn’t there and the Lions were able to move forward with consistency in their linebacker corps.

There will be 32 starting quarterbacks when the season opens next year and Shaun Hill will likely be a better player than at least a couple of them. Re-signing Shaun Hill doesn’t grab the big headlines but having a capable quarterback behind Matthew Stafford is a nice insurance policy, especially since Hill has been in Detroit for a couple years and can comfortably step in in a moment’s notice.

All told the Lions will return 21 of their 22 starters from a year ago in addition to several key backups and specialists. That low level of turnover combined with consistency in the coaching staff means the Lions can approach 2012 as a continuation of their successful 2011 campaign rather than starting from scratch yet again.

Grade: A-

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