As a precursor to free agency and the NFL Draft, we are going to take a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster. We continue the series with a look at the Lions' tight ends.
Under contract: Joseph Fauria (2015), Michael Williams (2016)
Free agents: Brandon Pettigrew (UFA), Dorin Dickerson (RFA), Matt Veldman (ERFA)
The Lions are in a bit of a weird spot right now at tight end. They have a pair of 2013 rookies under contract and that's it. Making things even weirder is that one of those rookies, Joseph Fauria, went from being an undrafted free agent to catching 7 touchdowns in 2013 despite having only 18 total catches. The other rookie, seventh-round pick Michael Williams, missed the entire 2013 season after being put on injured reserve with a broken hand.
In 2014, Fauria will almost certainly get a bigger role in the offense. For most of last season, he was only used in the red zone, but that should change as his game grows and he becomes a better blocker. Blocking is actually believed to be Williams' biggest strength, so he will likely have a more traditional role that involves putting his hand in the dirt rather than lining up in the slot.
The big question mark at tight end involves Brandon Pettigrew. He was finally able to become a more consistent target in the passing game last season by eliminating drops and fumbles for the most part, but he is set to become a free agent this offseason. If the Lions re-sign him, he should continue to be a starter, but it's possible that another team could offer him more money, even though Pettigrew has been average at best in recent years.
Dorin Dickerson and Matt Veldman are both set to become free agents as well for the Lions, but they aren't unrestricted. As a result, both should be back if the Lions want to re-sign them. Both sort of seem like potential camp bodies more than anything, although I suppose Dickerson will have a decent shot at making the team if Pettigrew isn't re-signed and the Lions don't add any notable tight ends in free agency or the draft.
Need going forward?
If Pettigrew is not re-signed, the Lions will have to bring in a new tight end just for depth purposes. Ideally, they would sign or draft somebody with the potential to become a real weapon in the passing game. Fauria already is a weapon in the red zone, but it remains to be seen what he will be able to do as more of an every-down tight end. With Williams poised to take over a blocking type of role at this position, an athletic, field-stretching tight end would be the most preferable replacement for Pettigrew.
I suppose it would still be nice for the Lions to add an athletic, field-stretching tight end even if Pettigrew is re-signed. Then again, if the Lions bring back Pettigrew to go along with Fauria and Williams, it seems unlikely that they will spend additional resources to improve the position given their limited budget. They could always use a draft pick if the right player is there for the taking, but I tend to think the position will be set in the Lions' eyes if Pettigrew is re-signed. (With that in mind, unless he's willing to re-sign at an extremely affordable rate, I personally hope that the Lions will let Pettigrew walk and explore their other options at tight end.)
Previously: Quarterback, running back, wide receiver