In this Look At The Lions update, we survey the aftermath of the annual free agency frenzy. The Lions made several shrewd moves to improve the roster , and put themselves in position to challenge for a NFC North crown , and a Super Bowl Championship.
Offense : Bush in the Backfield
First let's look at the signing that brought the biggest headlines. The Lions inked running back Reggie Bush to a 4 year 16 million dollar deal. That's pretty fair compensation for Bush, and he is a great addition to the roster. While he has greatly improved as a between the tackles runner, and can actually be counted on to grind out yards in short-yardage situations from time to time, Bush's calling card is the big play. For a Lions team that finished last in the NFL in runs 20 yards or more, Bush is a welcome sight. With Megatron and the Lions prolific offense drawing safeties out of the box, there will be 6 and 7 man fronts for Bush to exploit, and if he can beat one man, then look out. Bush also offers a dangerous passing outlet from the backfield, that will give defensive coordinators nightmares, and make this Lions offense even more potent. Finally, we can't forget Bush's explosiveness in the return game, something the Lions have struggled with, forced to use the likes of Stefan Logan back there in this role. A great player, that will be a great fit, on a decent contract.
Defense : Slow and Steady wins the Race
Next, let's look at a signing, that didn't receive the fanfare of Bush, but was undoubtedly much more important. The Lions brought in safety Glover Quin from the Texans on a 5 year, 25 million dollar deal. If you read the last update, you would see that I listed safety as our biggest need this off season, and Quin is an excellent player who can really bring stability to the secondary. He is a versatile safety, adept at both defending the run and the pass. Being a former cornerback, he can come down and play slot corner at times, giving the Lions nickel and dime defense added versatility. This was a Lions defense, that would surprisingly hold up well at times, and then give up a huge yardage play or a huge scoring play. With Quin back there, those days are history.
Next was re-signing cornerback Chris Houston to a 5 year, $25 million dollar deal. While Houston will never be confused with a shutdown corner, last season Houston made the jump from No. 2 corner, to a poor man's No. 1, tracking the opposing team's best receiver. He was one of the better corners available on the FA market, and the Lions were wise to lock him down long term.
Finally, the Lions brought the hometown kid, Jason Jones into the fold with a 3 year, $9.5 million dollar deal. Jones, who attended Southfield-Lathrup High School, and Eastern Michigan University, grew up rooting for the Lions and is a welcome addition to a defensive line that has only 2 of its top 6 contributors from last season under contract. There was initially some confusion on whether Jones was being brought in to start at defensive end, or to be a backup defensive tackle, but it has been cleared up. He will primarily be a defensive tackle in the nickel and dime package, but he will kick outside to defensive end from time to time, likely on 1st downs. He is a much better player when rushing from the interior than trying to be an over sized end, so this is welcome news to me.
The Lions said "Happy Trails" to a couple of their players however. Defensive end Cliff Avril signed a 2 year, $15 million dollar deal with the Seahawks, thus rendering his move to turn down the Lions 3 year 30 million dollar offer last off season, and play under the $10.5 million franchise tag, a failed gamble. However, he is joining a loaded Seahawks team that will be a viable Super Bowl contender, so perhaps the championship will make up for the $5 million dollars that he lost out on. Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill also was lost to the Titans, as they offered him more money and more playing time than the Lions could with Nick Fairley and Ndamakong Suh ahead of him.
Also, the Lions said goodbye to one of their stalwart veterans. Left tackle Jeff Backus was the model of consistency, and manned the blindside for the Lions for 12 years, including 186 consecutive starts. He's coming off an excellent season in which he only allowed 1 sack, and while his body and overall play was showing signs of decline, he was still the best overall lineman the Lions had. As a former left tackle in my glory days of high school, I truly appreciated the work Backus did, and hope the Lions can find their next Backus, and soon.
Restricted Free Agents
The Lions brought back a number of players before the onset of Free Agency, with the RFA tenders that will play a role in the team' success this season. Tackle Jason Fox was brought back, and he will compete with tackle Corey Hilliard for a starting spot. Fox was initially groomed to be the left tackle of the future when he was drafted, but injuries have derailed his career. It's likely the Lions will either go with tackle Reiley Reiff or a draft pick on the blindside, so Fox is likely competing to start at right tackle. Running back Joique Bell was brought back, and he will provide solid depth at the position behind Mikel LeShoure and Bush. Safeties Ricardo Silva and Amari Spievey were also re-signed. Silva has some physical tools , and showed flashes of being a future starter last season. Spievey has starter talent as well, and has played decently when he has been healthy, but concussions robbed him of virtually his entire 2012 season. He has been cleared medically to play for 2013, but these things are always an issue that should be monitored. Also the Lions brought back special teams stalwart Kassim Osgood. He is a Pro Bowl caliber ST player, and he is much needed on a Lions special teams unit that has struggled.
Look to the Future
The Lions have made their major signings, but look for them to still possibly be active. The market is currently flooded with solid cornerbacks and safeties, and this has caused the asking prices for a lot of these players to come down dramatically. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Lions sign a corner or safety or both to an extremely cheap deal in the coming weeks. The Lions are an especially attractive destination for FA corners and safeties, as there are starting spots available for both, and a player that signs a 1 year "prove -it" deal can re-enter the market next year after a strong showing this year. Possible targets include Michael Huff, Sheldon Brown, Antoine Winfield, Quintin Mikell, and even bringing back Louis Delmas.
Speaking of Delmas, there probably is enough cap space left after Backus' retirement to bring both he and defensive end Lawrence Jackson back on cheap, reasonable deals. Similar to the defensive back market, Jackson is suffering from a surprisingly slow market for pass rushers. I think the Lions would like to bring both back, as they both played well last season, albeit in Delmas case not as often as they would like, due to his injuries
The Lions also currently have an offer to wide receiver Domenik Hixon, and it is unclear if he would be brought in to be a 5th receiver or to take Mike Thomas' spot as the 4th receiver.
My next update will take a comprehensive look at the Lions' and the 2013 NFL Draft, including what players the Lions may be looking at, and some options that the Lions will be exploring.