MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Re-signing Pettigrew gives Lions security and versatility

Posted Mar 14, 2014

By bringing Pettigrew back as the starting tight end, the Lions have closed out the need to fill a hole in the offense either in the draft or by signing a free agent

Brandon Pettigrew’s return to the Lions after a brief tour of the free-agent market gives the Lions much the same security and versatility in their offseason plans as he has on the field for five seasons.

Brandon PettigrewTE Brandon Pettigrew (Photo: Gavin Smith)

By bringing Pettigrew back as the starting tight end, the Lions have closed out the need to fill a hole in the offense either in the draft or by signing a free agent. Either way, it would have cost a valuable resource that no longer has to be paid.

The Lions don’t have to use a high draft pick on a tight end. And they don’t have to pursue a free agent who is unlikely to play the dual role of receiver/blocker that Pettigrew has provided.

Pettigrew’s contract is for four years and $16 million, with a signing bonus of $4 million and $8 million guaranteed.

By comparison, the Baltimore Ravens – where new Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was offensive coordinator the last two seasons – re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year contract worth $32 million. That’s twice as much money as Pettigrew got, on a deal for Pitta is a year longer.

Pettgrew’s salary-cap number for 2014 is $2.25 million compared to $3.2 million for Pitta. Pitta’s cap number escalates quickly – to $6.2 million in 2015 and $7.2 million in ’16.

Whether Pitta would have been an upgrade is debatable. He had his career high with 61 receptions in 2012 and dropped to 20 in 2013 when injuries limited him to four games.

Pettigrew is an elite blocking tight end, and he has put up big numbers as a receiver – 71 in 2010 and 83 in 2011. He has declined the last two seasons, to 59 and 41 catches respectively, and dropped passes and fumbles have haunted him both years.

However, he overcame his early-season problems last season to finish on the upswing.

One element in re-signing Pettigrew should not go unnoticed.

In terms of the offense, the key members of the new staff – Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi – have experience with tight ends who were high-volume pass-catchers who were down-field threats. For Caldwell, that was Dallas Clark in Indianapolis. For Lombardi, it was Jimmy Graham in New Orleans.

Pettigrew does not fit that receiving profile. He is a big, mid-range target who provides a comfort zone for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

In their evaluation of the talent they inherited, Caldwell and Lombardi must have seen something in Pettigrew that fits with how they want to structure the offense.

In that regard, in their minds he’s a good fit for the offense, and for the offseason plan.