ESPN.com's Matt Williamson handed out grades to NFC teams on Tuesday for what they've done this offseason. The basis for the grades is simple: "Is each team better or worse than it was at the end of the 2011 season?"
I was pretty interested to see what Williamson gave the Detroit Lions simply because it's been a rather uneventful offseason in terms of roster moves. The Lions focused on re-signing their own guys instead of trying to make a splash on the free agent market, and as a result, there weren't many headline-grabbing moves made by the Lions. They were more concerned with keeping their core of players intact and improving via the draft.
Amazingly, Williamson gave the Lions a C- for their offseason. He says that the Lions "didn't make great strides forward this offseason," which I don't buy. Were they active in free agency? No, but they did do an excellent job of turning a small amount of cap space into new deals for Calvin Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Jeff Backus, Shaun Hill and several other of their own free agents. They also had enough room to franchise Cliff Avril, and in general they were able to bring back a lot of important pieces on both sides of the ball.
I mean, if you want to just look at what the Lions did on the open market, I suppose you're not going to be all that impressed. Just take a look at what ESPN thinks the Lions' key free agent additions and losses were this offseason:
Key FA additions: S Sean Jones, CB Jacob Lacey, WR Jarett Dillard
Key FA losses: CB Eric Wright, QB Drew Stanton
This just shows how uneventful the offseason was for the Lions in terms of free agency. Their "key" additions were a safety who might compete for a starting job, a cornerback who should be in the rotation and a wide receiver who may not even make the team. On the losses side, Wright is a legitimate one to list, but I hardly think having a third-string QB leave is a "key" loss.
What this shows is that free agency didn't really have a huge effect on the roster. The most notable thing was the Lions losing Wright, and even then, it's not like they were going to give him the ridiculous deal that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did. The Lions aren't better off without him right now, but in the long term I'm fine with them not overpaying him.
Anyway, let's go back to the original question Williamson presented for his criteria on the grades: Are the Lions better or worse than they were at the end of last season? In general, the roster hasn't changed much. However, I have a tough time believing the Lions are worse off than they were at the end of last season. They only lost a few guys, and they made up for that by adding a lot of talent via the draft. There is now more depth on the offensive line, at wide receiver and at linebacker thanks to the draft. Also, at cornerback the Lions have added several new faces who could improve the position. There are question marks for sure, but is the Lions' secondary really going to be that much worse without Wright? I don't think so.
Beyond the draft, the Lions have also added some injured players from last season into the mix. Mikel Leshoure should be a contributor in 2012 after his suspension, and the Lions didn't even have Jahvid Best at the end of last season. Assuming he returns as well, the Lions will be getting two talented guys back at running back that they didn't have at the end of last season. You can also throw in a healthy Nick Fairley at defensive tackle (once he's eligible to play, assuming he is also suspended).
I get that the Lions didn't do much outside of re-signing their own guys, but that was by design. I would have liked to see Martin Mayhew be a little more active, but given the restraints of the salary cap and the fact that he felt comfortable with the core of the roster, there wasn't a need to go crazy on the open market. Mayhew was able to bring back several starters and add a lot of talent via the draft, and he should get some other guys back from injuries. Do you still want to tell me the Lions are worse off than when they were knocked out of the playoffs last season?