O'HARA: Who could the Lions target to sign, and keep, in free agency?

Posted Mar 7, 2014

Mike O'Hara on which positions the Lions could be seeking to fill in free agency, who they should re-sign and more

Burning questions – who the Lions could target to sign – and keep – with the start of a free-agency looming, former NFL GM Bill Polian’s comments about Jim Caldwell’s impact on Matthew Stafford and another thought on Ndamukong Suh’s contract status with the Lions.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Q. Show me time: There is noticeably less drama than last year when Reggie Bush was targeted as a lock to sign with the Lions. Does that make a difference?

A. At least in Detroit, it makes it less of an interactive reality show made for ESPN, the NFL Network and the TwitterVerse, but it does not lessen the importance in building the roster.

Last year and 2010 were unusual years. In 2010, connections with the coaching staff made it a given that the Lions would sign defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and wide receiver Nate Burleson. They played important roles in terms of leadership and production in their tenure as Lions – three years for Vanden Bosch, four for Burleson.

Last year, Bush and the Lions had a mutual need. The Lions needed a speed back with receiving ability, and Bush was looking for a team whose offense fit his style.

Lions players were Tweeting to Bush to convince him to sign in Detroit, and he did on the first day of free-agency.

No free agent will make a big splash like Bush did, but there are players whose role can be just as important.

Q. For starters: What positions can the Lions look at to get starting help?

A. It’s not just who they sign, but who they keep.

On offense, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders of Pittsburgh is a realistic possibility. He is a former third-round draft pick and an ascending player coming off his best season – 67 catches for 740 yards and 6 TDs. He could be part of a project to upgrade the receiver position.

Golden Tate of the Seahawks has been a steady pass catcher who can help some team. He seems to be under valued.

A keeper would be tight end Brandon Pettigrew. He rebounded from a tough start last year and played good ball. Pettigrew is an excellent blocker and has shown in the past that he can be a productive mid-range receiver.

Q. What about re-signing Joique Bell. He’s a restricted free agent.

A. Unless he is asking for something that is way beyond market value for running backs, he should be back. He was more than a No. 2 back behind Bush. With Bush and Bell, the Lions had 1 and 1A. There is no way the Lions would want to break up a tandem that is one of the team’s strengths.

Q. The secondary: how much should the Lions concentrate on that area in free-agency, or should they leave it to the draft?

A. They have to get what they can when they can, and that’s true of all positions.

With Louis Delmas gone, a safety to start next to Glover Quin is a need. Chris Clemons of Miami has been mentioned as a possibility for Detroit, but he’s a strong safety who turns 29 in September. Ideally, any safety the Lions add will have ball skills and cover ground.

Sam Shields has been a good cornerback for the Packers. They had salary-cap room to put the franchise tag on him but chose not to do so. At 5-11, 184, size is an issue for Shields.

Another factor that works against making a big pitch for a cornerback is that the Lions have drafted four cornerbacks in the last two years and can get a young prospect in the draft. They could be better served to put their money on other positions.

Q. Polian on Caldwell-Stafford relatiionship: In his conference-call interview with the media earlier this week, Polian spoke highly of Caldwell’s ability to work with quarterbacks. What does that mean for Stafford?

A. For one thing, Caldwell is inheriting a quarterback with rare ability and a work ethic. It won’t be a makeover project, but a refinement, with Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter all working together.

Polian was GM and then president during Caldwell’s 10 seasons with the Colts (2002-11). Obviously, he has a high regard for him. He talked about Caldwell being a “stickler” for fundamentals.

“He’s a great communicator,” Polian said. “He explains the game clearly and concisely. He makes it easy for the quarterback to understand.  Matthew’s going to have to work every day on fundamentals, just as Peyton (Manning) did. That will improve him a lot, I think.”

Polian’s comments were in response to a specific question about Stafford, but it’s not a stretch to project how they could Caldwell’s emphasis on fundamentals could improve the entire team, not just one position.

Q. Suh: For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t look like he’ll negotiate a contract extension with the Lions before the start of free-agency. Is Suh doing anything wrong in not getting a deal done that will give his team more salary-cap room?

A. No. He is in a position that doesn’t happen often for players. With one year left on his contract, and with a salary-cap number of $22.4 million, the leverage is on his side. He can’t be criticized for using it.