Free agency starts in less than a week (March 5), meaning now is the time to re-sign players that are set to hit the open market. For the Lions, based on what Martin Mayhew has said, that means negotiating new deals with the likes of Will Heller, Jon Jansen, Casey FitzSimmons, Marquand Manuel, and William James. Mayhew recently provided an update on where the Lions stand with those aforementioned players, and all in all it sounded pretty positive.
General manager Martin Mayhew spoke to Phil Williams, the agent for tight end Will Heller, on Thursday night and said he's "cautiously optimistic" about re-signing him. Mayhew was scheduled to talk with Rick Smith, the agent for veteran tackle Jon Jansen, on Friday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. And he said he also plans to speak with the agents for tight end Casey FitzSimmons, safety Marquand Manuel and cornerback Will James.
The biggest name that is set to become a free agent for the Lions is of course Larry Foote, and the last thing we heard about him was from Tom Lewand, who said the team wants to bring the Detroit native back. The problems that could cause Foote to not return have already been discussed countless times before, and there's no real change there. The latest update on Foote's situation, however, is that he will become a free agent, and it is looking more and more like the Lions are ready to move on.
"We kind of left it like, 'Let's just stay in contact throughout free agency and see where it goes,'" Mayhew said of his talks with Foote's camp. "I won't get into negotiations and what we're talking about. But we're in contact. We've remained in contact the entire time."
Based on that it doesn't exactly seem like Foote will be back next year, but what about fellow linebacker Julian Peterson? Peterson isn't set to become a free agent, but there has been some talk that the team could trade him or cut ties with him because of his contract. While nothing appears imminent in that regard, it is possible that Peterson's contract could be restructured at some point, at least that is what the Lions seem to be hoping for.
"I had one conversation with his agent (Kevin Poston)" Mayhew added. "We agreed to follow up on it. We have not done that yet." [...]
"I just haven't followed up with him," Mayhew said. "I thought I'd see him here at the combine and we'd talk. There's no urgency around that issue.
"I mean, I think Julian did pretty much what we expected him to do in a limited role. I thought he was productive. I thought he made plays. I thought he had an impact on our defense. And I think he's the kind of player who's going to be an even better player when he gets better players around him. So I'm happy with Julian, and there's no sense of urgency at all about that situation."
As for free agency in general, Martin Mayhew hinted at the fact that the Lions are just waiting for March 5 to arrive to send out some contract offers, though I wouldn't expect any of them to be for someone like LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook or a backup quarterback for that matter.
Mayhew said the Lions would be "aggressive but more selective" when the free-agent market opens March 5. He said he expects to move quickly to sign specific players the Lions have targeted.
He said some free-agent running backs interest him, but most of them are older with mileage on them. He said there is a "pretty shallow pool" of backup quarterbacks available, but the Lions have some time and don’t need to move right away. They have their eye on some QBs who could become available after the draft.
Jim Schwartz was asked about Daunte Culpepper and the possibility of bringing him back earlier this week, and his answer revealed nothing specific about last year's backup quarterback.
"Well, we're still not at free agency right now," Schwartz said. "Backup quarterback is important. To have an experienced player behind [Matthew Stafford] is an important thing."
Pro Football Talk's Gregg Rosenthal, who asked Schwartz about Culpepper, speculates that "Culpepper is hardly a priority, but perhaps he'll return if the Lions can't do better." That sounds dead on to me. My guess is that the Lions would prefer to bring in someone new if they can, and another guess is that Culpepper wants to go somewhere else if he can. If neither side gets what they want, then and only then would a reunion in 2010 be possible in my mind.