Twentyman: Lions' quiet approach to free agency isn't a bad thing

Posted Mar 16, 2012

Weeks ago, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand tried to warn fans not to get too excited during the first few days of free agency.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, Mayhew said the team wasn't going to jump into the fray early on to be spenders.

"For us, this year, we don't anticipate being in the top part of free agency market, but we do plan on being active and trying to find value there," he said.

Lewand alerted season ticket holders during a fan forum last month that the team wasn't going to be a major player early in the process.

"I think patience is an incredible virtue when you're looking to put together a roster," he 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."

The Lions don't have a whole lot of cap space to make huge deals, anyways, but even if they did, they wouldn't overspend early in the process. It's just not this regime's style.

Teams involved in the early portion of free agency almost always pay too much.

"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," Lewand said.

Mayhew and Lewand have been more focused on retaining their own players they are comfortable with and fit a very specific role.

The Lions re-signed Calvin Johnson to an eight-year, $132 million contract Wednesday that will keep him a Lions through 2019. They put the franchise tags on defensive end Cliff Avril and continue to work on a long-term contract with him.

The team also hopes to re-sign unrestricted linebacker Stephen Tulloch and left tackle Jeff Backus.

But still, there are some fans pulling out their hair at the lack of free agent signings coming out of Allen Park. What those fans need to realize is no news early in free agency is often times good news.

The Lions are now in a position -- much like the Packers and Steelers and other of the NFL's consistently winning teams -- to add complimentary pieces around their core players, take care of their own free agents and not overspend in free agency.

Mayhew has shown over the last three years that he has a pretty good grasp of matching talent with salary.

The Lions sat back and waited during the abbreviated free agency period last period last year and were able to hook Tulloch, linebacker Justin Durant and cornerback Eric Wright.

Wright is a perfect case study of what I'm talking about.

The Lions paid Wright $3.5 million last year, and in return got a steady cornerback who started every game for them last season and chipped in four interceptions.

Wright, an unrestricted free agent this offseason, recently signed a five-year contract with the Buccaneers worth $37.5 million, according to reports. That deal will pay him about double annually what he made with the Lions last year.

Wright was a solid starter, but he allowed a league-high 75 passes to be completed on him, according to ESPN stats, and was inconsistent at times.

Would it have been worth it for the Lions to more than double his salary to re-sign him?

What's the cliché? Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, consistently winning football teams aren't built in the first few days of free agency, either.