O'Hara: Did the Detroit Lions get the most for their money in free agency?

Posted Mar 25, 2013

Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at the talent-to-cost ratio of the Detroit Lions' free agent signings and how it compares to the rest of the league

The ultimate proof in deciding which teams won or lost in free agency this year will be decided on the playing field. Performance tops everything, at least in the short term.

But value – the price paid for what was brought home – plays a role, and the early indications are that the Lions got good value in the free agent market. That includes the free agents they signed from other teams, and their own that were re-signed.

This week's Monday Countdown focuses on whether the Lions got value in comparing the performance of players they signed to others on the market at the same position. It includes players from running back Reggie Bush to Don Muhlbach, the Pro Bowl long snapper who was re-signed for a 10th season in Detroit.

We start – where else? – with Reggie Bush.

1. Reggie Bush: He signed for four years and $16 million, and like all the free agents signed by the Lions, his first-year contract is salary cap friendly. It counts $2 million against the cap, based on his 2013 base salary of $1 million and $1 million of his $4-million signing bonus.

Comparison: Steven Jackson of the Rams, signed by the Falcons, three years, $12 million, with a 2013 cap hit of $2.916 million; Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants is still unsigned.

Value: Jackson's career stats are clearly superior to Bush's, but neither player was signed for what he used to do.

Bush, 28, rushed for 986 yards, six TDs and a 4.3-yard average with the Dolphins last season. He had 35 catches for 292 yards, an 8.3-yard average and two TDs. At his age, and with only 986 career carries, his shelf life should be much longer than Jackson's.

Jackson had 1,042 yards rushing last season, a 4.1-yard average and our TDs. He caught 38 passes for an 8.4-yard average but no TDs.

In July, Jackson will turn 30 – the production cliff for NFL runners. His rushing totals have declined the last three seasons, and he has 1,509 more career carries than Bush.

Bottom line: Jackson's 2013 cap number is $916,00 more than Bush's, and he scored half as many TDs last season.

This was a value signing for the Lions, and the energy it produced gave it added value.

2. Glover Quin: Safeties flooded the market, and some big names changed teams. Ed Reed left Baltimore for Houston. Dashon Goldson went from San Francisco to Tampa Bay. LaRon Landry ditched the Jets for the Colts. Even two Wilsons packed and moved on – Adrian Wilson from the Cardinals to the Patriots, and George Wilson from the Bills to the Titans.

Glover Quin
S Glover Quin

Still on the market are such players as Charles Woodson, Kerry Rhodes, Michael Huff and Jairus Byrd. Byrd was franchised by the Bills.

Reality check: Ed Reed is bound for the Hall of Fame. He might be the greatest free safety in history. He was never going to sign with the Lions. The Texans are ready-made to make a playoff run. Getting Goldson would have been a reach, too.

Value: The big bucks went to Goldson ($9 million) and Landry ($5.7 million) for their cap hits in 2013. That was far out of the Lions' range, given what they had to spend and how many holes they needed to fill.

There are lesser cap hits for George Wilson ($1.7 million) and Adrian Wilson ($1.33 million.)

Quin has a five-year, $23.5 million deal with a $2.05 million cap hit in 2013.

Bottom line: George Wilson is 32. Adrian Wilson turns 34 during the season. Adrian Wilson had an interception last season. George Wilson had none. Both had five pass breakups.

Quin is younger (he turned 27 in January). He had two picks and 14 pass breakups last season – four more than the Wilsons had combined. He has missed only one game as a pro and has started the last 60 regular-season games he has played in and four in the playoffs.

Youth and production makes this another value signing.

3. Jason Jones: At the NFL meetings last week in Phoenix, coach Jim Schwartz declared Jones the starter at left defensive end. Jones signed for three years and $9.5 million, with a cap hit in 2013 of $1.833 million.

Defensive end is undergoing an extreme makeover in the Lions' Front Four.

Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the starters the last three seasons, are gone. Vanden Bosch was released, and Avril left as a free agent, signing a two-year contract with Seattle that pays him $6 million in base salary and signing bonus in 2013.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated rated Avril first in his top 50 free agents. ESPN rated Avril No. 1 among defensive ends. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, a noted authority on NFL personnel, ranked Avril No. 3.

Jones did not make King's top 50. He was 24th on ESPN's list of ends. Jones also plays inside at tackle in pass-rush situations, and McGinn ranked him No. 2 among the defensive tackles.

Value: The Lions were not going to pay big money for any player, and that included defensive ends.

As franchised players, Michael Johnson of Cincinnati and Matt Starks of Miami got $11.175 million. Michael Bennett got $4.8 million in base and bonuses from Seattle. All three are one-year deals.

At the other end of the salary scale, Marcus Spears got two years and $2.75 million from the Ravens after being cut by Dallas.

Bottom line: The Lions shopped for a bargain. Jones has been a solid player, but not an impact pass-rusher. Willie Young, who did not have a sack for the Lions last season, got a one-year tender worth $2.023 million.

There is a void at pass-rusher.

4. Re-signings: The Lions got low-market cap values for 2013 in signing back three defensive starters -- cornerback Chris Houston ($2.3 million), linebacker DeAndre Levy ($2 million) and safety Louis Delmas ($2.09 million). Houston signed for five years, Levy for three and Delmas for two.

Realistically, Delmas is playing on a one-year deal. His base salary rockets from $715,000 to $5.5 million in 2014. If he stays healthy, the Lions will be happy to renegotiate a longer deal.

Value: ESPN ranked Antoine Cason No. 1 among cornerbacks. He went to Arizona on a one-year deal reportedly worth $1.5 million. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, ranked one spot ahead of Houston by ESPN, got what amounts to a one-year deal in Denver for $2.9 million. Houston fits in the middle between Cason and Rodgers-Cromatrie.

Bottom line: If Delmas proves he can stay healthy, better for the Lions to do it with them because of his inspiring personality. The Lions kept Houston on a five-year contract. He's been their most dependable cornerback, and a three-year starter.

Other role players who were re-signed or got tenders include Muhlbach, Osgood, Dylan Gandy, Amari Spievey, Joique Bell and Jason Fox.

5. Balance sheet: The Lions are offseason winners at running back and the secondary because they got help without losing value at either spot.

It's another matter at offensive line, defensive line and linebacker.

On offense, both starting tackles are gone. Gosder Cherilus signed with the Colts, and Jeff Backus retired. Starting outside linebacker Justin Durant is unlikely to be signed back, and three members of the defensive line rotation are gone for sure – Avril, Vanden Bosch and tackle Sammie Hill, who signed with Tennessee.

Jason Hanson's future as the kicker has to be settled, and the Lions are still in the market for a punter.

The free agent door swings both ways. Some new faces enter, some depart and others stay put and watch the shuffle.

The draft awaits, and the Lions have the fifth pick overall on April 25.

Most signs point to drafting a lineman, but free agency has not settled conclusively whether it will be on offense or defense.

Keep your mock drafts handy -- and your erasers.