By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – With Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas released earlier this off-season, the Detroit Lions definitely need a wide receiver, and they definitely need a safety. They can fill those needs starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, though Detroit will be limited with roughly $7.7 million in cap space, according to the NFL.
Statistical analysis confirms what those who have watched the games know already: Detroit needed most help at the wide receiver and secondary positions even before dropping Burleson and Delmas.
According to ESPN, the Lions dropped a league-high 46 passes for a league-worst drop rate of 7.5 percent. Wide receivers for opposing teams, on the other hand, fared quite well against the Lions, who gave up 19 touchdowns and snagged only eight interceptions, according to ESPN. The -11 margin is third-worst in the NFL.
The Lions need a reliable No. 2 receiver to spell superstar Calvin Johnson, who last season look at solid as usual but hardly practiced because a knee continually bothered him so much. Any receiver who plays with Johnson should get ample opportunities to shine since Johnson so often gets extra attention from defenses. That aspect plus the team’s pass-happy mentality should make the Lions an ideal landing spot for many receivers.
Though Detroit may well draft a wide receiver, several free agent options could make sense, too. The Green Bay Packers recently jettisoned James Jones. Playing second fiddle to Jordy Nelson (1,314 receiving yards in 2013) and working almost half the season without the benefit of respected veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Jones caught 59 passes for 817 yards in 2013. For Jones, it was the highest total of his career, building on 784 yards in 2012 after 635 yards in 2011.
Jones also looks fairly durable; he has played all 16 games in five of his seven seasons. He missed six games back in 2008 and missed two games in 2013. Last year 30 of Jones’ 59 catches went for first downs.
Alas, Jones could be too expensive for the Lions. However, there are always other options. Detroit could throw its name in the hat for 25-year-old Golden Tate, who will attract plenty of interest after his season with the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks. Tate caught 64 passes for 898 yards in 2013. He made 41 grabs that gave the Seahawks first downs, including five touchdowns.
The Lions could also go with players whom their new coaches have seen at previous stops. 29-year-old Jacoby Jones (455 yards on 37 catches) comes from the Baltimore Ravens, from where Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell came. Another possibility could be 30-year-old Lance Moore of the New Orleans Saints, where new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi coached the last seven years. Moore recorded 457 yards on 37 catches in 2013.
As far as bringing in a safety to replace Delmas, the Lions will almost assuredly use free agency versus the draft to fill that need since the learning curve for defensive backs from college to the NFL is so steep. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward has become a popular possibility, with buzz about Ward growing since he and current Lions safety Glover Quin have recently followed each other Twitter. Ward recorded 112 tackles in 2013.
28-year-old Chris Clemons of the Miami Dolphins could also fit the bill for the Lions, as could 30-year-old James Ihedigbo of the Baltimore Ravens, from where Caldwell and new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin recently departed. Ihedigbo is getting up there in age, but ESPN reports that he played his way into a major role for the Ravens despite lower outside expectations entering the season.
However, the write-up also notes that Ihedigbo is “solid at coming up to make the hit but … doesn’t make enough plays in coverage.” Clemons, on the other hand, has age on his side, and he looks to be healthy, having played in all 16 games the last two seasons and only missed three games in the two years combined before that. Clemons recorded 93 tackles in 2013.
While much has been made of the fact that star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has not yet signed an extension with the team, meaning the Lions have not been able to reduce Suh’s massive $22.4 million cap hit, Lions team president Tom Lewand told detroitlions.com that what happens with Suh will not hurt Detroit in free agency.
“An opinion that any one deal can make or break a plan doesn’t fit,” Lewand said. “There is no one deal that makes or breaks a plan. The plan is a lot more dynamic and has a lot more pieces than that.
“It’s not impacting anything that we’re doing in free agency,” Lewand continued. “It doesn’t impact our plan at all. It doesn’t impact what we’re getting ready to do.”