NFL free agency officially opens next Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. Before then, the negotiating period begins this upcoming Saturday, meaning the unofficial start of free agency is nearly here. As things get rolling in the coming days, here are some Detroit Lions storylines worth keeping an eye on:
Will Shaun Hill return as the backup quarterback?
We already know that the Lions are in the market for a veteran quarterback to back up Matthew Stafford. What we don't know is if Shaun Hill will be re-signed. His last deal was worth $5.5 million over two years, and plenty of teams could be interested in making him their backup. Will he stay in Detroit, or will the Lions have to look elsewhere for Stafford's backup?
Will Joique Bell get a long-term deal?
Bell is a restricted free agent, so he should be back with the Lions next season no matter what. What's unclear at this time is if the Lions will sign Bell to more than just a one-year RFA tender. Bell has made it known that he wants to stay in Detroit for the foreseeable future, and the Lions seem open to making something happen. Locking up Bell would really solidify the running back position for years to come.
Are the Lions really bringing back the traditional fullback role?
Martin Mayhew recently indicated that the Lions might want to add a traditional fullback to their roster. There really hasn't been a role for a traditional fullback in recent years, but with a new offensive coaching staff, that could change. If the Lions truly are planning to bring back this role, it's possible that they could sign a traditional fullback in free agency.
How will the Lions begin their overhaul at wide receiver?
It's no secret that the Lions need to give Calvin Johnson some help at wide receiver. They are expected to draft at least one wide receiver later this offseason, but there are plenty of options on the free-agent market as well. Will they make a run at a top free agent like Eric Decker? Could they target Emmanuel Sanders? Will they settle for a lesser-known free agent and plan to make most of their talent upgrades in the draft? These are just some of the questions that surround the wide receiver position going into free agency.
Will Brandon Pettigrew re-sign or land elsewhere?
The Lions have made it a priority to re-sign Pettigrew, which would in turn keep tight end off their list of needs. However, all signs point to Pettigrew becoming a free agent, and he could generate some interest on the open market.
Who will back up Dominic Raiola at center?
After releasing Leroy Harris, the Lions are now in need of a backup center. It's more likely that they will wait until the draft to address this need, but perhaps the Lions will bring in a veteran free agent instead.
If Willie Young isn't re-signed, will the Lions add a veteran defensive end?
If Young doesn't re-sign with the Lions, they will have only three defensive ends under contract. Pass rusher apparently isn't viewed by the Lions as a pressing need, but they could use a bit more talent at defensive end. If Young isn't brought back, it will be interesting to see if they try to bring in a veteran at this position or if they decide to wait until the draft to fill the hole on the depth chart.
Will Ndamukong Suh sign a long-term deal?
Luckily, the Lions have enough cap space right now that getting Suh a long-term deal isn't a necessity at this point in time. It would still be nice to lower his cap hit and lock him up for years to come, though, so this is still a top priority for the Lions. It's unclear if negotiations have even started with Suh considering he doesn't have an agent, but there's some talk that he could represent himself in negotiations. This has the makings of a very, very interesting story to follow for a variety of reasons.
What is the plan at cornerback?
The Lions have decent depth at cornerback, and Mayhew is confident that Chris Houston will bounce back after a rough 2013. However, there is a need for more talent at this position. Will the Lions simply fill that need by re-signing Rashean Mathis? Will they instead just move forward and draft another cornerback? Might they make a run at a top-tier free agent like Aqib Talib or Alterraun Verner? We should get a better feel for what the Lions' plan is at cornerback shortly after free agency opens.
How will the Lions replace Louis Delmas?
It's entirely possible that the Lions will bring back Delmas on a new contract after releasing him earlier in the offseason. For now, though, it looks like Delmas will land elsewhere, meaning the Lions are headed into free agency with a starting spot to fill at safety. It's unlikely they will be able to afford a top guy like T.J. Ward or Jairus Byrd, but this need is a prime candidate to be taken care of during free agency.