With the combine quickly approaching and the draft positions of prospects expected to change frequently over the next two weeks, I thought it would be wise to start by looking at free agent targets. After all, free agency starts right after the combine so it is a perfect time to evaluate who the Lions should target. Earlier this week, teams started announcing franchise tag assignments which altered the potential free agency market a bit too. Here is a list of positions that the Lions should look into in free agency.
When you look at this list, the first thing you notice is that defensive line (defensive end and defensive tackle) are not on the list. That is because players like Kawaan Short and Jason Pierre-Paul are were franchised. Even alternate options like Mario Addison and Melvin Ingram are remaining with their teams, making it less likely that there will be starter grade talent at a reasonable price in free agency. With that in mind, offensive line is a spot that seems odd to see here. I included it mainly due to the status of Reilly Reiff. Reiff will either leave or re-sign with the Lions after testing the free agent market. With that said, the Lions will either be signing a new right tackle or signing Reiff during the free agency period. That is why I included offensive line.
The remaining positions above will likely be additions to the team. The Lions have 32 million to spend, and while right tackle, and Matthew Stafford will both get a chunk of that, they still have plenty to spend. The defense needs help and Corner seems to be the most likely spot to find an upgrade at the number two corner spot. Corner is typically a big money position in free agency, but with the number of talented corners available and the talent available in the draft, I suspect that the Lions will find a reasonably priced corner in free agency. I would expect that the Lions pass over big targets like AJ Bouye and focus on smaller fish like Stephon Gilmore. There is an obvious Patriots connection with Logan Ryan that cannot be ignored, but he may not be a cost effective signing. I think linebacker is another interesting one. There are few impact linebackers in the draft, and the obvious choice in free agency, Donta Hightower, is likely going to seek north of 10 million per year. That may be outside the Lions desired price point for the position so I am expecting the Lions to target someone like Zach Brown from Buffalo or Kevin Minter from Arizona.
At receiver and safety, these are two positions that need low cost additions. The Lions are not going to target someone like Eric Berry to play safety because they have Tavon Wilson and Glover Quin starting. They will likely add an up and comer to learn from Quin or compete with Wilson at a lower cost. They also will be looking for a 3rd receiver, and this is where the most mystery lies. No one knows whether Anquan Boldin will be back. Andre Roberts is also a free agent, so there are really two openings at receiver. Bob Quin should spend a little bit for a potential third receiver (less than 5 million per season) but it remains to be seen what he wants to do at the position. Guys like Terrance Williams and Robert Woods would be targets that make sense to the Lions in the third receiver role. They need someone that has some size and or speed to help either in the red zone or as a deep threat. Without Boldin, the Lions struggled to score in the red zone this past season and that is huge hole without Boldin next season. It remains to be seen if Eric Ebron can be that red zone threat. Some wonder if he has the strength to be that guy.
Overall, I think a solid free agency period where Quinn addresses all of the mentioned positions above sets him up for another excellent draft where he can build that defensive line, add a tight end, and possibly add a young corner later in the draft. Whether he sees the needs the same as fans do though will be the biggest question which will get answered in the next few weeks.