Detroit Lions: Offseason Plan 1.0

Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the first in a series of different paths the Detroit Lions and new GM Bob Quinn can explore in this offseason. No path should be seen as the only road to playoff victory.

Free agency opens March 9th, and the NFL Draft is at the end of April. As of today (Feb. 27th) the Lions have about $33M in salary cap room and that is with Calvin Johnson still on the active roster. If Megatron indeed retires–and that decision has not been made yet–the team will have an additional $11M to play with.

To accurately set up the plan, a few background contextual items must be accounted for. In this one…

  • Johnson retires
  • Brandon Pettigrew is jettisoned
  • Tahir Whitehead departs in free agency
  • Haloti Nagata quickly re-signs

Among the holes which need to be filled in one form or another, in no particular order:

  • Inside linebacker
  • Backup quarterback
  • Safety
  • Offensive tackle
  • Defensive tackle
  • Big running back
  • Wide receiver with size
  • Center
  • Edge rusher with speed

Free Agency

With over $40M in cap room, the Lions have moved from shopping in the free agent clearance racks to the upscale stores. Alas, the supply of high-end free agents this year doesn’t meet the demand.

Free agency is primarily for filling holes and building depth, and the Lions sorely need depth. Quinn said as much in a recent press conference.

Smart shopping in free agency is paramount. I don’t expect Bob Quinn to break the bank for the big names like Mario Williams or Eric Weddle, players on the downside still looking for big paydays. The Patriots did that a bit while Quinn was there, but that franchise was in better position to both lure and properly utilize the over-30 players chasing either a ring or one last big payday, often both.

For a reference on what free agents are available, here’s RotoWorld’s top 100. Note that I do not necessarily agree with their rankings but it’s good for both comparative context and it also lists everyone’s age.

My signings…

–Ian Williams, DT. Good-not-great nose tackle just entering his prime years, he’s a player who can play above-average run defense and log over 600 snaps at a position where depth is a perennial NFL issue. Three years and $13.5M, almost all guaranteed, should get it done and shore up the 1-technique. I prefer Damon Harrison but Big Snacks will cost more.

–Danny Trevathan, ILB. I think he’s better in a 3-4, but his primary role in Detroit would be as the cover-oriented backer. Trevathan was fantastic in that role in Denver. His improvement against the run last season made a big difference for the Broncos, and it also made him more money. He won’t come cheap. Mychal Kendricks scored 4 yr/$29M last year as the same type of player. Add a million each to the overall figure and guaranteed money (up to $17M) and Trevathan makes Lions fans forget about Stephen Tulloch immediately.

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  • –Rodney McLeod, safety. Dave Birkett of the Free Press mentioned McLeod as a Lions target, and it makes sense. He’s 26 with 48 career starts in coverage schemes familiar to Teryl Austin’s defense. He’s small for the position at just 5’10” and 195, but he hits hard and is hyper-aggressive in trying to force turnovers. I like the concept of moving Isa Abdul-Quddus back to the third safety role. He’s a better player than Rahim Moore, who signed for 3 yr/$12M in Houston last year. Indications are McLeod is looking for short-term cash and a subsequent contract, so I give him 2 years and $16.5M now, then talk again next offseason.

    –Stefen Wisniewski, center. I’m ready to write off Travis Swanson as a loss as a starter, but I do like his value as the top interior OL reserve. Wisniewski is a pass-blocking specialist of a center; he’ll be a downgrade from Swanson as a run blocker. I’m okay with that, at least on a short-term basis. $7.5M over two years for the journeyman with bigger name value than football ability, and that’s a raise for him coming off a one-year, $2.5M deal he signed with new Lions Dir. Of Player Personnel Kyle O’Brien in Jacksonville. Patching a hole, not filling it here.

    –Alfred Morris, running back. The former Washington RB is a sledgehammer between the tackles. His yards after contact figure is outstanding. His work in the passing game is not, but the Lions don’t need that with Abdullah and Riddick already on board. Two years and $7.5M should get it done.

    –Marcedes Lewis, tight end. Kyle O’Brien knows him well from Jacksonville, and even though Lewis is slower than some tackles he’s a reliable blocking presence who can chip-and-release into 20 receptions as the No. 2 tight end behind Eric Ebron.

    I’m also bringing back DT Tyrunn Walker on a one-year, “see if he’s healthy” deal. He deserves that much.


    My overriding draft philosophy is to take the highest-rated player available at a position which will be a need in the next three years. I won’t force a fit. As an example, the Lions do/will need a speedy outside wide receiver. But if the candidates are that type of player ranked 9th on the available board or a linebacker ranked 2nd, say hello to the new SAM backer.

    I tried to keep the projected availability as realistic as possible here.

    More from SideLion Report

    First round–Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. He finished 25 plays (12.5 sacks) behind the line of scrimmage for one of the best defenses in college football last year, and shined against premium competition. I like the length and the powerful upper body. Lawson plays with a relentless, venomous disposition. Others will be faster to turn the corner, but he can also win attacking inside. Have him start as the third DE behind Ansah and Taylor and turn him loose as much as his plays merits.

    Second round–Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State. One of last weekend’s Combine winners, Thomas doesn’t have ideal long speed but offers tremendous burst off the line and reliable hands all over the field. At 6’3” and 212, he brings size and physicality to the outside, qualities which will be sorely lost without Calvin Johnson. He’s a significantly better receiver in traffic than the more heralded Laquon Treadwell. Faster too.

    Third round–Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas. The comp pick for Ndamukong Suh goes to a player who fills the role left behind, an attack-dog 3T who tries to win the game on every snap. His vision in the run game and range beyond about four steps in any direction is limited, but he can beat interior blockers with quickness or power, or a combination of both. He’s a boom/bust player with more high-end ability than former teammate Malcolm Brown, whom Quinn and the Patriots took in the first round last year and who was very nearly Detroit’s first-round pick.

    Fourth round–Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State. I suppose I should state here that I’m actually okay with entering 2016 having Riley Reiff and Michael Ola as my starting tackles. It’s not great, it could certainly be upgraded but that duo worked well enough down the stretch. Seriously. In adding FCS star Haeg, there is developmental depth in a 6’6”, well-heeled frame who has played both left and right tackle for a program that would qualify for bowl games if it were in the MAC or Mountain West. His pass protection is ahead of his run blocking at this point. Let him compete and see what happens.

    Fifth round– Stephen Anderson, TE, California. He’s in the Devin Funchess mold of hybrid TE/WR, albeit much faster off the line and in the open field at 6’6” and 232 pounds. For my money he’s a better receiving prospect than former Cal teammate Richard Rodgers, currently starting in Green Bay. This is intentional positional redundancy with Eric Ebron, and the ability to play both on the field together can create some matchup nightmares.

    Fifth round–Danzel McDaniel, CB, Kansas State. He missed most of 2015 with a knee injury and he just began working out again. The odds are decent he won’t be ready to go all-out before the season, so this is a stash job. In 2014 McDaniel was one of the best CBs I watched all year, an aggressive playmaker and outstanding tackler. He might be a better prospect at safety, especially if he’s lost a little speed. The Lions acquired this pick in the draft-day trade with Denver last year.

    Sixth round–Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon. Understand this with Adams: I’d strongly consider drafting him in the third round and he is my fifth-rated QB in the class. I don’t care (much) that he’s short. Adams is a crafty field general with the ability to consistently create something out of nothing. The arm strength and accuracy are both good enough. I want this guy on my team.

    Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
    Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports /

    Sixth round–Saiosi Aiono, C, Utah. A powerful pivot with a high football IQ, Aiono fits into a power-blocking scheme yet he’s also proven he can get out and engage well in space. Can also play guard. This is the pick which Seattle traded to Detroit for Mohammed Seisay, who didn’t make the Seahawks roster.

    Seventh round–Jacobi Green, RB, Richmond. Here’s what I wrote about Green over at RealGM

    "The Jacksonville native had over 50 receptions in his final two years and reports from the NFLPA game indicate he catches the ball cleanly and can pass protect, too. If that validates in training camp and preseason, I have little doubt Green will stick in the NFL. Coaches love versatile backs who can get hit in the backfield and still muster a 2-yard gain, and I think Green can do that just fine. His work in short-yardage and red zone situations as a senior was nothing short of sensational."

    A situational contributor whose game compares more than a little to Joique Bell’s, albeit in a shorter (but not smaller) package. I’ll take that chance here.