ORLANDO – Lions head coach Matt Patricia was asked about the team’s needs this week on Tuesday, and he expressed a little bit of concern about the tight end position.
“I would say right now if we had to go line up and play, we’re probably short maybe at the tight end position,” he said. “Try to get another body in there if we can from a free agency standpoint.”
Patricia got the help he needed Thursday with the signing of veteran free agent Levine Toilolo, who spent the last five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Toilolo caught 12 passes for 122 yards with a touchdown in 15 games last season.
The Lions released veteran tight end Eric Ebron before the start of the new league year in what Quinn called a financial decision earlier this week at the annual league meetings. Ebron caught 53 passes for 574 yards and four scores this past season. He’s now in Indianapolis.
Detroit signed veteran tight end Luke Willson a few days into free agency from Seattle to help stem the loss of Ebron. They also return Michael Roberts, a fourth-round pick last year.
Willson, Toilolo and Roberts combined to catch 31 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.
In 2018, all three will get an opportunity to play much bigger roles than they did a year ago. Willson gets the chance in Detroit to step out of Jimmy Graham’s shadow.
Toilolo played behind Austin Hooper in Atlanta last season.
Roberts could certainly play a bigger role heading into his second season. He had just four catches as a rookie.
“Mike’s a very unique talent in terms of his size,” Quinn said. “He’s got versatility to contribute in the passing game as a receiver, in protection, as well as his role last year was really probably one of our better blockers on the line of scrimmage.
“We’re excited about his future, but I think it’s really up to him to kind of take the next step because the talent’s there. He’s just going to kind of work to kind of take that next step.”
The other two tight ends on the roster – Hakeem Valles and Brandon Barnes – have not recorded a catch in an NFL game.
Quinn talked this week about how the roster building process never ends for him. The last few days are a perfect example of that. What Patricia considered on Tuesday to still be an area of need was bolstered just days later with the signing of Toilolo.
“You want to really build your team through the offseason to go into the draft without a ton of needs,” Quinn said.
The Toilolo signing further allows him to do that.