Lions 2011 Free Agents

The Lions have several players that will be free agents this coming season.  Because the NFL is operating under the "final year" clauses of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) there are different rules for free agency this off-season.  If you want an explanation of all the rules, you should refer to this excellent Q&A posted by Shaun


Sean's Q&A on Free Agency and the CBA

Unrestricted Free Agents

Let's look at the unrestricted free agents first.  These are the guys that we can lose with no compensation, so it is an all or nothing proposition to sign them.

The toughest UFA decision is Nathan Vasher.  Vasher was not stellar, but he was better than most of the other Lions cornerbacks.  At this stage of his career, Vasher is a finished product ,so what you see is what you get. The problem with Vasher is that he might want to be paid like a full time starter in the NFL, but his play may not justify that.  Nathan has made a few excellent plays, but he has also been burned on some plays too.  I don't see the Lions signing Vasher to a big contract to play over Chris Houston or Alfonso Smith for the long term.  If the Lions sign Vasher it should only be for a one or two year deal.  Add in that the Lions are likely to draft at least one cornerback prospect and this decision becomes even more tricky.

The Lions should have only lukewarm interest in C.C. Brown during the coming off-season.  Brown was unable to keep his starting spot from being taken away by rookie Amari Spievey at one point during the season.  The play of Brown was inconsistent and if you are going to tolerate that, you might as well play a young guy that has a chance to improve with the playing time.  Brown has hit his ceiling and won't be getting any better.  Even then, he is one of the worst cover safeties in the NFL.  If the Lions sign C.C. Brown they need to get a bargain because he is more a depth player than a starter.  The Lions are better off by continuing to develop Amari Spievey and Randy Phillips instead. 

I do not expect the Lions to pursue Landon Johnson with much vigor.  The play of Johnson was uninspired before he suffered two concussions in three weeks and landed on injured reserve.  Bobby Carpenter was signed to replace him and showed much more potential.  The odds are very low that Johnson will be a Lion next season.

Jared DeVries is in the list of free agents, but his prospects to make the roster with the Lions are not good.  The Lions defensive line is just too young and too good.  Many expect that Jared will call it a career after two consecutive seasons on injured reserve.  But a guy like DeVries will have a hard time calling it quits.  It isn't in his nature to quit at anything.  Either way, the Lions are likely to be the only team that is interested if he decides to play.  He may get offered a one year contract to come to camp just as a retirement gift from the Lions.


Restricted Free Agents

The Lions can control the contract negotiations for these players by making a qualifying offer to them.  If another team makes them an offer, the Lions have the right to match it and keep the player.  If the Lions choose not to match the offer they would get a draft pick from the team that signed the player.  The compensation draft pick is based on the qualifying offer the Lions made to the player.  Thi8s is NOT a compensatory supplemental pick, that is something different.  This is the actual draft pick of the team that signed the player away from the Lions.

The players that will probably get some interest from other teams in the market are Cliff Avril, Chris Houston, and Drew StantonAndre Fluellen might also get a little interest as well.

Cliff Avril will definitely get a qualifying offer from the Lions.  Avril's 2010 cap number was $631,333 and that was a bargain.  Avril is going to get a nice raise this coming season.  A second round tender for a player with three years of service was $1.684 million last year.  If the Lions don't tender Avril at a second round pick, or higher, they may lose him.  But the Lions will likely match any offer made to Avril.  The only real question is whether Avril will sign his tender to stay with the Lions, or whether the Lions will sign him before they even have to tender an offer.

The Lions will also give a qualifying offer to Chris Houston.  His cap number was $550,000 last season.  Since Houston was a second round draft pick, the Lions will probably give Houston an original round tender offer.  That would be at least $1.176 million since Houston has four years of service.  The Lions will probably match any reasonable offer made to Houston but would take the second round pick if it got ridiculous.  Especially if they could sign Nathan Vasher cheaper.

Drew Stanton was at $1.052 million on the cap last season.  Since Stanton was a second round pick they would likely tender him at his original round for the $1.176 million.  The problem with Stanton comes in what other teams might be willing to offer.  He showed enough in the games that he played to draw some interest.  He might even be able to get more than the $2.08 million that Shaun Hill is signed for.  If Stanton gets an offer that is much higher than his tender the Lions are likely to let him go and take the draft pick.

The Lions will probably give Dylan Gandy a tender offer just to have him in camp.  The tender offer will likely be at a 10% raise over his 2010 salary of $1,176,000.  If the Lions draft a center then Gandy will probably be the casualty to make room for them on the roster.  But that also means that Gandy would never get paid most of the contract anyway.  The Lions might also keep Gandy and cut, or trade, Dominic Raiola if they get a rookie center that can win the starting spot.

There are several restricted free agents that might not get tender offers.  I am going to present those in a list for you to see why.



Original Draft

2010 Salary Cap Number

Original Round Tender Offer

Jerome Felton




Kevin Smith




Andre Fluellen




John Wendling





As you can see every one of these players would be looking at a large raise if they were to receive a tender offer, except for Gandy.  Most of these players will not generate a ton of interest from other teams if they are allowed to become unrestricted free agents.  The Lions will likely negotiate with them to stay with the team at a lower salary before the deadline for tender offers is reached.

I expect the Lions to make an effort to sign all of these players for camp.  The only question is whether another team will try to sign them as well.  The biggest risks are Andre Fluellen and John Wendling, and those are relatively low risks. 

Some teams might feel that Fluellen can perform bigger if he has a bigger role.  The question is how much cash they are willing to risk to prove that. 

John Wendling was nominated to be a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams.  He will not get much attention, but he might get some. I expect the Lions to be able to sign him. 

Kevin Smith has been hurt too much for a team to risk much on him.  He has more value to the Lions than he is likely to have to anybody else.

Jerome Felton just has not gotten enough playing time to make much of an impression on another team.


Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Stefan Logan, Zack Follet, and Caleb Campbell are exclusive rights free agents. Either they sign a new contract with the Lions or they will have to sit out the season.  I expect all of them to come to an agreement and be in camp.  That assumes that Follett is physically able to continue playing football.



I do not expect the Lions to lose anybody they cannot replace easily.  The Lions have the ability to match any deal to Cliff Avril and Chris Houston, so they should be able to keep both players. 

It would be nice to sign Nathan Vasher to a cap friendly deal, but if we don't there will be other free agent cornerbacks available. 

It might be better for the Lions if Drew Stanton gets an offer with another team.  Then the Lions can get the second round pick back that they spent on him and let Drew try for a bigger role someplace else.

Kevin Smith is likely to get a cap friendly contract to see if he still has something to offer in camp.  But he has to perform or he will get cut.  This would be his final chance.

After those players it would be good to keep Fluellen and Wendling for continuity.  Both players have contributed to the team and its success.

The Lions should sign Jerome Felton and Dylan Gandy to cap friendly contracts just to have them in camp and competing for a spot.

Jared DeVries should retire and get the nice watch and a good party from the Lions.  He has been a good player and deserves to go out with dignity instead of being beaten for a roster spot and cut.

The Lions should let CC Brown and Landon Johnson go to another team.

So there is the lot of them.  The Lions are actually in pretty good shape in terms of their own free agents.  Hopefully the Lions will be able to make free agency a net plus for the team this off-season.


There are some important dates on the NFL calendar and one of them snuck by without notice.

January 3, 2011 - Teams may begin signing free agents for the 2011 season.  This means that teams can sign their own free agents, not sign guys from other teams.

February 7, 2011 - The waivers system starts.  Teams can start waiving players and claiming those on waivers.  The Lions do not have such an advantageous waiver position this season so it will be harder to get guys off waivers.  We are likely to see some Lions get waived though.  Can you say Julian Peterson?

February 23, 2011 - The NFL Combine begins and runs to March 1, 20011.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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