Lewand: Don't expect the Lions to make a huge splash in free agency

Posted Feb 14, 2012

The Lions aren't likely to make a huge splash in free agency when it begins March 13, according to Lions president Tom Lewand.

Speaking in a conference call exclusively with season ticket holders Tuesday, Lewand said the team's focus this offseason is more about retaining their own core players and free agents than adding talent through free agency.

"The first year Jim was here we went out and obviously signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson and those guys have been great for us," Lewand said. "They filled some roles on the field and filed some roles in the locker room for us that have been critically import.

"But we're at a different stage right now. We've got to focus on keeping the nucleus of the players that we have and we have a few of our own free agents that are challenges for us that we'd like to have back."

Lewand mentioned players like defensive end Cliff Avril, quarterback Shaun Hill, left tackle Jeff Backus, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and corner Eric Wright as a few of their own free agents they can ill afford to lose.

"Sometimes we see teams go out in free agency and start to grab something that looks good on the other side of the fence, and meanwhile, they're losing their own good players on their side of the fence and haven't kept their own house in order," Lewand said.

It's certainly important to keep the core group of players together, but simple economics are also preventing the Lions from being big free agent players.

The team will be tight against the salary cap next season and simply won't be able to sign one of the marquee players at $10 million per season.

Lewand said the Lions were one of 20 NFL teams that borrowed salary cap money from future seasons in 2011.

The new collective bargaining agreement signed last year allowed teams to borrow up to $3 million from the 2015-17 cap years in 2011 and will allow clubs to borrow up to $1.5 million from those caps this season.

Lewand did not specify how much the Lions borrowed last season or how much they might borrow this season, but admitted the team wasn't in a situation from a cap standpoint to be big spenders this season.

"Do you pay in cash or do you pay in credit," he said. "You can get your goods now but you have to pay for them at some point in time.

"Sometimes, there's an interest charge that goes with it, and that interest charge shows up in the salary cap in different ways than it shows up in your bills and on your checkbook. But it shows up nonetheless. And that is if you borrow too much early, and you're signing a bunch of guys, lo and behold, as you get to future years, you don't have enough salary cap room left to keep that group together. So you make some short-term decisions, some quick-fix kind of decisions, and you don't always take the long view."

Lewand said the good thing about the current leadership and coaching staff is that they are all looking at the salaty cap in the long view, and not the short term.

"If you just keep buying all of your Christmas presents on Visa, eventually those bills come due, and eventually you're going to have to pay up.

"You certainly don't want to be in a position where everyone has some great Christmas presents and pretty soon you can't pay the mortgage and you don't have a house to live in."

Expect the Lions to be patient in free agency and target specific players who might not be the biggest names in this year's market.

The Lions were patient in free agency last season and were rewarded by signing players like Tulloch, Wright and linebacker Justin Durant, who were all signed for under $7 million, combined.

"I think patience is an incredible virtue when you're looking to put together a roster," Lewand said. "You have to have a sense of urgency about getting better on a daily basis, and I know we have that, but you also have to be patient knowing we have a limited number of resources.

"If you are patient, you can sometimes get a lot more value for your cap dollars than you can if you charge out there on the first day of free agency and make the big splash signings."

Everything within the salary cap can be boiled down to the quick fix or playing for the long haul, according to Lewand, and the Lions are choosing the long haul and will be smart with the cap dollars they have available.