Cleat Geeks

On The Clock: Detroit Lions 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the Detroit Lions.

Team: Detroit Lions
2015 Record: 7-9
Draft Pick: #16


Season Summary

Lions-Calvin-Johnson-megatron-0528-4The Detroit Lions started the season with an abysmal 1-7 record, losing more games in the first seven weeks than the entire 2014 season. This led to the firing of President Tom Lewand, GM Martin Mayhew, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and two other coaches.

Head coach Jim Caldwell retained his job, however, and proved that it was the right choice as the Lions finished the season 6-2 to finish with a respectable 7-9 record. They were still in playoff contention through Week 14, when a loss to the St. Louis Rams ultimately ended their postseason aspirations.

Matt Stafford greatly improved under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, posting a 19:2 touchdown to interception ratio over the second half of the season. Unfortunately, he may be losing his most reliable target, as wide receiver Calvin Johnson is considering retiring after nine years in Detroit.

Re-Signings & Cuts

The Lions have already cut linebacker Stephen Tulloch, running back Joique Bell, and defensive tackle C.J. Wilson. Add that to cornerback Rashean Mathis retirement, and the Lions freed up nearly $10 million in cap space.

Brandon+PettigrewBrandon Pettigrew is another player that could potentially be cut within the upcoming weeks. He has combined for a paltry 17 receptions over the past two seasons and releasing him would save the Lions an extra $2.7 million.

They should use some of this cap space to re-sign players such as linebacker Tahir Whitehead, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, and wide receiver Lance Moore. Both Abdul-Quddus and Whitehead didn’t claim full-time starting gigs until halfway through the season, but once they did they became an integral part of Detroit’s defense. Lance Moore can be brought back for cheap, and the Lions could use the extra help at wide receiver if Megatron does in fact retire.

The Lions also have three defensive ends entering free agency: Jason Jones, Daryl Tapp, and Corey Wootton. Jason Jones is the best of the bunch, starting 31 games for Detroit over the last two seasons. If Detroit allows all three of these players to walk, they will have no depth on their defensive line.

Some players the Lions should let walk include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, safety James Ihedigbo, and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez. All of these players expected salaries far exceed the value they will provide.

Even though he is a $24 million cap hit in 2016, the Lions need to do everything in their power to convince Calvin Johnson not to retire. The future Hall of Famer has been Detroit’s lone bright spot for nearly a decade, accruing 93 touchdowns in his nine seasons with the Lions.

Free Agency Needs

As of now, the Lions have just over $24 million in cap space, which is about middle of the pack. They should use this money to improve their offensive line, wide receiver core, and defensive front seven.

This year’s class of free agents has no shortage of quality offensive linemen. Players that may draw Detroit’s interest include center Stefan Wisniewski; guards Alex Boone, Evan Mathis, and Jahri Evans; and tackles Donald Penn, Andre Smith, and William Beatty.

Alshon Jeffrey was the only star wide receiver that was set to hit free agency this year, but he will be returning to Chicago for at least another season under the franchise tag. None of the other free agent wide outs will fill the void that Megatron creates if he does retire, but there are still some quality players such as Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, and Jermaine Kearse.

coby-fleenerIf Pettigrew is in fact cut, the Lions could look to free agency to bring in another tight end such as Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen, or Coby Fleener.

Along the defensive line, the Lions would be smart to target defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Terrance Knighton. Both players are big, physical 300-pounders who can take on multiple blockers and clog up running lanes. On the outside, Chris Long and Mario Williams are both looking for new homes after being released from their respective teams. Not only will they bring a veteran presence to the defensive line, they could potentially be acquired on a short-term, team-friendly deal.

Photo by Scott Rovak

Photo by Scott Rovak

There are four free agent inside linebackers worth signing this offseason: Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, James Laurinaitis, and Derrick Johnson. With a clear need at this position, the Lions will need to look to the draft if they can’t sign one of these players.

Potential Draft Picks

There are three positions to keep an eye on when the Lions pick at #16. Those are offensive tackle, wide receiver, and linebacker. Whichever one they choose to draft will probably depend on which needs they are able to fill through free agency.

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will probably be gone by the time Detroit is on the clock, but Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker could still be available. Both would both provide a much-needed boost to the Lions porous offensive line.

TreadwellTop-tier wide receivers Josh Doctston and Laquon Treadwell could be available, too. If Megatron does retire, both of these players would provide Matt Stafford with a much-needed big body to target in the red zone.

If they decide to draft a linebacker in the first, it is likely to be either Reggie Ragland or Darron Lee. Ragland will be a downhill thumper of an inside linebacker, while Darron Lee would an athletic presence on the outside opposite of Deandre Levy.

Due to the depth of defensive linemen in this year’s draft, the Lions could grab a quality starter in the second round such as Vernon ButlerChris Jones, or Maliek Collins. Mike Thomas and Braxton Miller are two playmaking wide receivers who could also be available. If there is still a glaring need at linebacker, look for them to select Scooby Wright.

Have any questions, comments, or just want to talk about the article? Just use the comment section below.

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