–QB Drew Stanton has agreed to a one-year deal with the Lions, NFL.com reports. Stanton led the Lions to a pair of victories in three starts at the end of last season. The Michigan State product said he wanted to test the waters in free agency but likely didn’t find a better opportunity.
As the lockout ended, the Lions had 53 players under contract, including several who finished last season on the practice squad. They have eight unrestricted free agents, seven restricted and five drafted rookies.
The Lions did not address the holes at cornerback and linebacker in the draft largely because Mayhew believed he could better upgrade those positions through free agency or trades.
There is no way to tell how much cap space the team will have after they re-sign their own free agents, but it is doubtful they will target top tier-talents such as CB Nnamdi Asomugha or LB Stephen Tulloch. To overspend on such players, especially when signing such a player wouldn’t automatically make the Lions a Super Bowl contender (too many other holes), would go totally against Mayhew’s methodical team-building approach.
That said here are a list of players at each position the Lions could be targeting.
Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati: He’s going to command about $8 million per year, according to ESPN’s John Clayton, which might be too rich for the Lions. But he is the best available after Asomugha.
Chris Houston, Detroit: It’s not completely clear how much the Lions want to re-sign Houston. They liked him, for sure, but they didn’t offer him an extension last season. They were hoping they could get him on another one-year deal to take a longer look before committing to him long-term. But, he was their best corner last season and unless they strike it rich, they will have to woo him back.
Chris Carr, Baltimore: The Lions made a run at him before last season. He’s 28 and been a steady, if not spectacular player for seven seasons. He doesn’t have the size (5-11, 180) that Mayhew likes at corner but he plays with the aggression and toughness that he covets.
There are a good number of teams (Green Bay and Dallas among them) whose payroll already exceeds the cap and they will have to cut players. So that will create another pool of free agents, and among those at the cornerback position could be Nate Clements (49ers), Terence Newman (Cowboys) and Chris Gamble (Panthers).
Stephen Tulloch, Tennessee: Don’t rule him out completely. He has a history with coach Jim Schwartz. He has an expressed fondness for the Lions’ aggressive style of defense and he has Tweeted that he’d love to play behind the Lions’ talented defensive front. The question is: Can the Lions afford him? If they can fit Tulloch in under the cap, they would move current MLB DeAndre Levy to the outside and play Tulloch in the middle.
Keith Bullock, New York Giants: He’s a bit older (34) but he also played for Schwartz and has said recently he’s completely healthy and ready to be a full-time starter again.
Ben Leber, Minnesota: He’s a little bit older (32) but he has been a consistently productive outside linebacker for 10 seasons.
Stephen Nicholas, Atlanta: The Lions have had their eyes on him for a while. He’s 28 and shares the OLB spot with the Falcons. Perhaps the Lions could woo him with a full-time starter’s role.
Kirk Morrison, Jacksonville: He’s 29 and coming off his least productive year of his career. After averaging more than 130 tackles for six years in Oakland, he had 89 tackles for the Jags. But he’s still considered one of the best and most durable middle linebackers available. He’s played in 95 straight games.
Thomas Howard, Oakland: Howard lost his starting outside linebacker spot last season to Quentin Groves, but he is a player that a lot of scouts believe is ready to break out. He is just 27 years old and had a three year stretch – from 2007-2009 – when he started and produced 106, 96 and 97 tackles.
Thomas Davis, Carolina: Interesting case here. A first-round pick in 2005 and a productive player for a couple of years, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament twice in a seven-month span and missed the entire 2010 season. Dr. James Andrews, who performed both surgeries, said that he will be able to return to football this season. The question will be whether or not he regains the explosiveness he had before the injury. If he does, there is a lot of good football left him in. He’s 28.
The Lions will also be keeping an eye on the Packers. It is believed they will have to cut one of their expensive linebackers to get under the cap — either Nick Barnett or Brandon Chillar.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–S C.C. Brown will not be re-signed.
–LB Bobby Carpenter seemed to find his game within the Lions’ 4-3 scheme last year. He will have a chance to earn a starting spot this season.
–LB Vinny Ciurciu won’t return.
–WR Brian Clark will not be re-signed.
–G/C Dylan Gandy was the only backup interior lineman on the active game-day roster last season. He is expected to battle Donald Thomas for the same role.
–CB Tye Hill isn’t in the team’s 2011 plans.
–CB Chris Houston was the Lions’ most reliable corner last season, but the team did not offer him a long-term extension. Thus, it is unclear how strongly they will pursue him.
–LB Landon Johnson won’t be back with the team.
–DE Turk McBride also played well filling in for the injured Kyle Vanden Bosch last season, but if he is seeking a starter’s salary, he will have to look elsewhere.
–CB Brandon McDonald’s showcase ended abruptly with a shoulder injury. He was not tendered by the club and isn’t expected to be back.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
–TE Jake Nordin (not tendered as ERFA).
–RB Kevin Smith (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–DE Cliff Avril (tendered $@>^M with first-round pick as compensation) had a breakout season last year and he figures prominently into the team’s long-range plans.
–DT Andre Fluellen (tendered $1.2M with third-round pick as compensation) might have his fate tied up with Turk McBride’s in that it’s not likely the team will re-sign both. Fluellen has value because he can play inside and outside on the defensive line.
–FB Jerome Felton (tendered $1.2M with fifth-round pick as compensation) will see his role change with the drafting of power back Mikel Leshoure, but he remains the only true fullback on the roster.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
–LB Ashlee Palmer is highly-valued by the defensive coaches. He’s only 24 and showed he can contribute at outside and inside linebacker, as well as special teams.
–KR/WR Stefan Logan’s versatility was invaluable last season. He was among the league leaders in kick and punt returns, played on coverage teams, as well as playing receiver and tailback.
–CB Prince Miller showed enough in his brief work last season to warrant a longer look.
–K Dave Rayner: UFA 1 yr, terms unknown.
–QB Drew Stanton: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–CB Nathan Vasher: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–S John Wendling: UFA; $2.75M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
–S Erik Coleman: FA Falcons; terms unknown.
–LB Justin Durant: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
–DE Jared DeVries (UFA; retired).
–WR Bryant Johnson (released).
–CB Eric King (released).
–LB Julian Peterson (released/failed physical).
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