TIM AND MIKE: A little game of fantasy free agency

Posted Mar 5, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara discuss Ndamukong Suh and a wild free agent scenario

The biggest player shuffle of the season begins in a week, with the free-agency signing period starting next Tuesday. There is more talk than action and more smoke than fire, with teams and players getting in position to make the best possible deal for themselves.

Not all the talk is about free agents, though. The Lions have been left in a waiting mode in negotiations on a contract extension with Ndamukong Suh while he decides on a new agent.

Ndamukong SuhDT Ndamukong Suh (Photo: Gavin Smith)

The Lions aren’t likely to make as big a splash in free-agency as last year, when they came out of the gate quickly, signing Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones, and followed it up by re-signing Chris Houston and Louis Delmas.

Can anything top that when the free-agent bell rings next week?

Mike: You mean like going after Saints tight end Jimmy Graham? In terms of a single player, it would be the biggest free-agent signing in franchise history. It can be debated whether Graham or Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots is the best receiving tight end in the NFL, but Graham has remained healthy, unlike Gronk.

Going after Graham might be the equivalent of fantasy free-agency because of everything involved. It would take some creative management of the roster, finances and the salary cap. In other words, it would take more than one move – and a ton of money.

Possible, Tim, or fantasy?

Tim: Considering the Saints have used the franchise tag on their talented tight end, um receiver, um whatever he is, we’re in full-blown fantasy mode here, Mike.

But hey, I’ll play along.

So let’s say the Lions are interested. That means they’ll have to surrender two first-round picks to the Saints to get Graham. Then they’ll have to workout an extension that would likely have to be greater than the six-year, $53 million deal Gronkowski got.

You still like this scenario, Mike?

The Lions would get the best tight end in the game, granted, and a supreme weapon to pair with Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Bush and Co., but that might be too great a cost.

Now, there could be a way the Lions could get some of the draft picks back. 

You know what I’m talking about, Mike?

Mike: You’re reading my mind – which is a guaranteed headache.

But back up, first. The compensation formula calls for two first-round picks, but teams that have applied the franchise tag have negotiated lesser offers – say picks in the first and third rounds.

Take it step-by-step.

Step one: If Jimmy Graham were in the draft this year, would you take him with the Lions’ first-round pick – 10th overall? I would. That means you’re giving up a third-round pick.

Step two: In Detroit, Graham is reunited with Joe Lombardi, the QB coach in New Orleans and the Lions’ new offensive coordinator. Pretty good fit, I’d say.

Step three: If you want to recover some draft picks, and you perceive Suh’s delay in naming an agent as a way of gaining more leverage – and perhaps not really wanting to return to the Lions – trade him to get back some draft picks.

The net effect: Graham for Suh, losing a third-round pick this year for Graham, but adding two picks for Suh.

Reasonable now?

Tim: Now I have a headache.

I do like your scenario, though. The Lions all of the sudden have the two most dominant receiving threats in the NFL on the same offense. How would teams defend that?

The defense would take a significant hit, however, with one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the game right now no longer causing havoc. Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley would have to really step their game up.

This fantasy free agency thing is kind of fun.

Are the Lions a better overall team making this deal, though?

Mike: Let’s turn that headache into a migraine and rehash what’s been proposed.

The Lions get Graham but lose their first- and third-round picks this year. They trade Suh and get second- and third-round picks, also this year.

In effect, the Lions are making a player-for-player trade, with draft picks added to both deals. They’re getting Jimmy Graham, who turns 28 in November, for Suh, who turns 28 in January.

The bottom line: you can have Graham, two second-round picks and a third, or have Suh with picks in the first, second and third rounds.

Think it through and get back to me while I have a Tylenol sandwich.

Tim: If all those moving parts could be worked out it would be something to consider because it gives  Stafford the kind of help he needs. This team is only going as far as he can lead them.

It’s extremely far fetched, though.

How could the recent news that Suh might represent himself in contract negotiations with the Lions affect those talks?

Mike: That’s the great unknown, but if the two major parts of the deal are taken separately, Suh representing himself would be an issue for the team that gets him.

The more we bat this idea back and forth, the less inclined I am to do it. I’ve said and written all along that the best option for the Lions in anything involving Suh is the one that keeps him in Detroit, and I still think so.

At least I think I think so.

Should we sleep on this for a week and reconsider?

Tim: It is always fun to bat these ideas around leading into free agency, but in the end I expect Suh to be a Detroit Lion on a new long-term extension. The Lions want him, he wants to be here -- by all accounts -- and it makes sense for all involved if a fair deal can be reached for both sides.

Isn't free agency fun?

Mike: Probably more fun for us dealing in fantasy than for those whose careers are at stake.

And I agree with you on one issue: after all this talk, I’d keep Suh.