MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Comfort level important in free-agent signings

Posted Mar 16, 2016

Dan Orlovsky's travels through the NFL's free-agent market have taught him that in many cases, players and teams have common ground in making roster decisions that aren’t always based on finances and pure talent.

Dan Orlovsky’s travels through the NFL’s free-agent market have taught him that in many cases, players and teams have common ground in making roster decisions that aren’t always based on finances and pure talent.

Orlovsky has found that on many levels of free-agent signings – from star players to those who provide depth and intangibles – comfort level is important for both sides.

Orlovsky, who has signed back with the Lions to be the backup to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, is part of what shapes up as a solid beginning for general manager Bob Quinn in his first year with the Lions.

The Lions did not chase marquee names. The closest they came to that was signing wide receiver Marvin Jones of Cincinnati, whose resume in four seasons with the Bengals indicates he should provide another sure-handed pass catcher to go with Golden Tate.

In addition to bringing back a number of their own players – defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, long-snapper Don Muhlbach, defensive back Crezdon Butler and Orlovsky – the Lions also brought in players who’ve been role players at previous stops.

The latter category includes defensive backs Johnson Bademosi, Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson and defensive tackle Stefan Charles.

The free-agent signing period reaches the one-week period at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, but the nature of the process and expectations of fans and media makes a week seem like a month – at least – on a time-lapse video.

The bottom line will be determined on the field, but all in all, it’s a good start for the Lions in a typically fluid process whose landscape can change —for players and teams -- in a moment.

The 2016 season will be Orlovsky’s 12th as a pro and No. 3 in his second tour with the Lions. He was Detroit’s fifth-round pick in 2005 and had free-agent stops with the Texans (2009-10), Colts (2011) and Bucs (2012-13) before signing back with the Lions in 2014.

Orlovsky, who turns 33 in August, is more familiar with the free-agent process than most players because of his experiences in changing teams. He has an insight into the factors that build a comfort level.

“It’s probably a combination of things,” Orlovsky said in a telephone interview. “It’s where you are in your career, how your situation affects it. When you’re younger, you’re probably fixated on getting as much money as you can, just because of the reality of the business world.

“As you get older, you have to get a feel for the market and have a realistic view of yourself and what you potentially can get in the market.”

Teams are looking for the right fit, too.

“What you’re seeing more teams do is find players who fit scheme-wise and personality-wise,” Orlovsky said. “Teams are realizing how important people are, and how important the locker room is. It’s one of those things where you’re going to face difficult times throughout the season.

Dan OrlovskyDan Orlovsky (Photo: Detroit Lions)

“It’s one of those clichés that probably rings true, that the character of your players is probably just as important as the talent because those tough times are going to come. You’re going to lose tough games. Young players are going to struggle like they never have before in their lives.

“I think what you’re seeing in free agency, teams are looking for the all-encompassing player. It’s not just the fastest player, but ‘Does he fit in our 53?’”

Orlovsky’s status on the Lions’ depth chart is clear cut. As Stafford’s backup, Orlovsky is an insurance policy the Lions hope they never have to use.

Stafford has been one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league over the last five seasons, starting all 80 regular-season games and two in the playoffs. Orlovsky’s only playing time in the last two years was two games last year. He finished out the second half against Arizona when Stafford was benched after his third interception and a brief appearance in a blow-out loss to the Chiefs in London.

Stafford and Orlovsky are the only two quarterbacks on the roster, but there is certain to be at least one addition in either the draft or free agency. Last year the Lions departed from their previous practice and kept two quarterbacks on the final roster instead of three. Orlovsky beat out Kellen Moore for the backup job in the preseason.

The bottom line for any player is that having a job is important. But the relationship Orlovsky developed with Stafford and the coaching staff influenced him to want to return to Detroit.

“I won’t sugar-coat it,” Orlovsky said. “Matt’s become one of my best friends in the NFL quickly. I like being there. I honestly believe we have a chance to be a good team.

“I know I have value. I know I’m wanted.”