Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
After starting off hot week one, NFL free agency always has a way of fizzling out as bigger-name targets fly off the board and the sex appeal of signings rapidly drops by week two and three. That doesn’t mean later signings are any less important towards building a winner, however.
The Detroit Lions were busy early, hosting visits and inking wide receiver Golden Tate and versatile defensive end Darryl Tapp. The second week of free agency will bring less buzz, but there are still many ways the Lions can fill out their roster for 2014 and build a winning team. Who is left that might fill these needs well?
1. Champ Bailey, CB. To the dismay of plenty, the Lions haven’t made any meaningful upgrades to the secondary this offseason. Despite Martin Mayhew‘s apparent contentment with the position, cornerback does remain a major concern, especially as it relates to veteran leadership. Perhaps Detroit will bring back Rashean Mathis. Instead, they should look hard at Bailey, who would fit in well in a situation where he could serve as a mentor and situational cornerback. Bailey still possesses plenty of game as well when he’s in, considering he started 15 out of 16 games and had two interceptions in 2012 at age 34.
2. James Ihedigbo, S. Late last week, all indications were Ihedigbo intended to sign with the Lions eventually after sorting things out at home. There’s been no news to make anyone think otherwise, so it’s fair to say that remains the case. Many aren’t impressed by Ihedigbo’s stats and worry about his coverage ability, but considering he knows Teryl Austin’s defense well, the signing could prove quietly valuable in helping to ease the defensive transition. Ihedigbo could also help mentor a rookie should Detroit decide to draft one in May.
3. John Kuhn, FB. Over the weekend, the Green Bay Packers stuck it to the rival Chicago Bears by signing away defensive end Julius Peppers. On a smaller level, the Lions could do the same to the Packers and pick up Kuhn, a fullback who knows his way around the NFC North. Considering Detroit showed unrequited interest in Henry Hynoski last week and appears committed to returning the fullback to their offense, Kuhn could be an excellent choice. He’d become an instant fan favorite, and has shown an impressive ability not only to run block but catch passes out of the backfield with eight career touchdowns.
4. Jerricho Cotchery, WR. Detroit’s draft plan does likely includes a young wide receiver, be it Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans or someone else later on. While Calvin Johnson remains the unquestioned leader of the group and Tate is a major statistical upgrade over anyone currently on the roster, the Lions may need to sprinkle in one more veteran leader. Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham have proven inconsistent, but Cotchery hasn’t, considering he was Ben Roethlisberger‘s 602 yard, 10 touchdown security blanket in 2013. He probably wouldn’t amass those numbers in Detroit, but if Cotchery lingers on the market, he would be worth a flier to fill out a young group, especially considering the injury risk at this position.
5. Major Wright, S. If the move to sign Ihedigbo should happen to fall through in the days ahead, the Lions could always choose to pursue another NFC North rival in Wright, who enjoyed his most productive season in Chicago in 2013 collecting 100 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Detroit likely needs more of a free safety minus Louis Delmas, but Wright has age on his side (25) unlike many of the remaining free agent safeties, and has been a developing play maker. Perhaps the Lions could sign Wright and pair him with a rookie creating a tandem.