The first major wave of free agency has basically come to a close. The majority of the high-profile free agents have signed with teams, and most of the deals going forward will involve teams looking for bargains. That's especially true for the Detroit Lions, which currently have only $2.3 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap.
The Lions opened free agency with around $10 million in cap space, but they quickly used up much of that by re-signing some of their own players and adding a few guys from other teams. Running back Joique Bell and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree were both re-signed last Tuesday, for example, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was re-signed on Friday. Earlier in the offseason, the Lions got center Dominic Raiola, safety Don Carey and long snapper Don Muhlbach back under contract to keep them off the open market.
The Lions also kept their five exclusive-rights free agents off the open market by tendering contracts to all of them. Wide receivers Kris Durham and Jeremy Ross, tight end Matt Veldman, linebacker Julian Stanford and cornerback Chris Greenwood were all retained by the Lions, although their contracts had a minimal effect on the salary cap.
For outside free agents, the Lions signed Golden Tate, Darryl Tapp and Vaughn Martin. Tate filled a big need at wide receiver, and Tapp and Martin will serve as extra depth on the D-line at defensive end and defensive tackle. The Lions also took a look at several other free agents from other teams, including fullback Henry Hynoski and center Phil Costa, but they decided to sign elsewhere.
With these moves complete, what might the Lions do next? The main guy to keep an eye on is safety James Ihedigbo. The Lions have had a hole to fill in the starting lineup at safety since the release of Louis Delmas, and Ihedigbo was in town for a visit on Thursday. He left without a deal, but all signs point to him joining the team at some point soon.
RE: Safety situation. Detroit waiting on Ihedigbo. He's got a lot going on (changing agent, wife about to give birth). Give it time.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) March 14, 2014
If things don't work out with Ihedigbo for some reason, perhaps the Lions will try to sign safety Chris Clemons, who has been connected to them. Ihedigbo, Clemons and wide receiver James Jones are actually the only three unsigned free agents left who have reportedly drawn interest from the Lions, although Detroit no longer appears to be a possible landing spot for Jones.
Aside from Ihedigbo, the Lions could re-sign quarterback Shaun Hill, offensive tackle Jason Fox and cornerback Rashean Mathis in the near future. There hasn't really been any news involving these three players so far, but the belief is that the Lions would like to re-sign them. Hill has been their backup quarterback for a few years now, and Fox should be a cheap backup option at offensive tackle. Mathis, meanwhile, was the team's best cornerback last season, but considering he's 33, there doesn't exactly appear to be a huge market for him, so he could re-sign for an affordable deal as well.
The main storyline going forward from a cap standpoint really revolves around defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. At least as of earlier this week, negotiations on a new deal for Suh hadn't even started, likely because he just recently hired a new agent. The Lions don't really need the extra cap room from a Suh extension right now since they aren't expected to make any big splashes in free agency. However, they will need more space later in the year for their rookie contracts and for when the top-51 rule ends at the beginning of the regular season when all deals count against the cap.
So, with all of that in mind, what's next for the Lions? I'd venture to guess that they will sign Ihedigbo relatively soon, and after that perhaps they will re-sign Hill and Fox. Whether or not they bring back Mathis might depend on what happens in the draft simply because the Lions have so many bodies at cornerback already. That goes for most positions, actually. At this point, given who's left on the open market, the Lions may be better off waiting for the draft to play out unless they have a pressing need to address. They for sure need to add a starting safety and a backup quarterback, but they can probably wait things out at other positions.
And, of course, they need to sign Suh to a long-term deal. It's entirely possible that negotiations could go so well that a deal gets done in the next couple weeks, but it's probably more likely that this will stretch into the summer like Matthew Stafford's extension did last year. The Lions could always restructure contracts to create extra cap space if they absolutely need to, but it'd obviously be preferable to just sign Suh to a long-term deal, so hopefully that will be done sooner rather than later.