The Lions wide receiver corp is barreling for disaster. All it would take is a matter of Calvin Johnson's retirement (which by all accounts should be official soon enough but what's taking so long oh my God someone hold me) to send the unit clear through the guardrail and over the cliffside and into the unknown, God and the horizon before them right before gravity kicked him.
With Lance Moore set to become a free agent and Corey Fuller slated as a restricted free agent but not expected back in any meaningful role, the Lions currently possess Golden Tate and TJ Jones and...that's it! You can probably start gesticulating at some practice squad cannon fodder and whipping yourself into a Rudy fanfic, but this column shall abstain.
The college outlook might provide options on the late second day or third day of the draft, but the Lions have too many core concerns on the defense and offensive line to be courting the top wideouts of this class. Outlook remains doubtful that Bob Quinn will thrust the Lions into the mix. Although later round options exist, these won't be enough.
So be it. The Lions enter 2016 needing a solid no. 2 option should Calvin Johnson hang the cleats up. Golden Tate's proven he can play as the top receiver with Matthew Stafford, but rounding out the arsenal should be imperative for any offense.
The Roger Murtaugh (Anquan Boldin)
The line between a cagey wolf who is always obligated to teach young pups and a washed NFL athlete is a fine line dictated by results and revisionism, but veteran receivers can still produce in the league. There's also a certain cut-throat capitalist streak when it comes to signing one of the geezers as terms will often be short and potentially favorable to the team.
Anquan Boldin recently had his contract voided, which makes him a free agent in March. Although he's stated his desire to return to the 49ers, new head coach Chip Kelly might not have a place for him in whatever cockamamie system is born from his secret underwater laboratory. Boldin had two consecutive 1000-yard seasons in 2013 and 2014 and still racked up close to 800 yards in 2015 and caught passes at a rate of 62 percent. Turning 36 in October it's still conceivable that Boldin has at least one good year left in him, although he'll probably want at least a two-year deal.
"They call them millions" (Alshon Jeffery, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones)
The price on these wide receivers could possibly be too rich for the Lions' blood, the bidding table too crowded. They're the hot names of free agency and Detroit should probably float interest on someone here but focus their efforts elsewhere. That said, they're still targets of interest to varying degrees.
Alshon Jeffery is, of course, one of the biggest names of this free agency period right now. He's certainly been exceptional for the Bears and Jay Cutler, but the Lions won't expect to tango with him. Spotrac puts his estimated market value around $13 million and the option remains for the Bears to slap him with the franchise tag out of spite. Certainly injury will be a factor for those interested in him, but the core argument against Jeffery and the Lions will be price above all else.
Mohamed Sanu certainly won't command anywhere near the same stratosphere of money that Jeffery will, but in the mid-range value receiver market he's already pulled in plenty of suitors. It's not a question of top money being paid for him but more of an issue with a bidding war for his services. The Lions have too many needs to start thinking about paying Sanu more to beat out the competition.
Marvin Jones is reportedly seeking around $7 million, although he's valued somewhere between $5 and $6 million by Spotrac's numbers. When Jones was on for Cincinnati, he was a 63 percent receiving target averaging over 12 yards per reception. However, there were a few games where Jones found himself quiet in the corner.
Weapon of choice (Rishard Matthews, Kamar Aiken)
Young, talented, rising stock. These athletes will be hot on the market once the top names clear, but questions about their upside remain with only a limited number of games to go on. Nevertheless, they're liable to be open as their current squad may not be able to keep them.
Miami languishes under the tyranny of the salary cap and they simply cannot keep everything they have right now. Rishard Matthews could conceivably be looking for a payday, one that would absolutely be justified in spite of ending his season with injuries. Matthews was ranked second in DVOA value per play, although questions will remain if this is simply a flash of brilliance or the start of something great. The Dolphins will try to re-sign him, but if they do another piece might slip through their sweaty fingers.
Another cap casualty may arise in the case of Kamar Aiken, who also reaped a breakout year. The Ravens' salary situation is dire and it might lose another weapon for Elite Guy Joe Flacco. Even if they were to try to retain him, they might not be able to pay what other teams will throw at Aiken. As is the story with Matthews, Aiken's career prior to 2015 was quiet and there will be questions as to whether he can continue this mark; but with the wide receiver market in flux he could probably get his money.
Will they be there? (Jermaine Kearse, Travis Benjamin)
Although the unrestricted free agent listings always look enticing this time of year, most become mirages. Many athletes are just fine returning to places they know and teams they're comfortable with.
Jermaine Kearse is likely to re-sign with the Seahawks, but if he decides to walk away from Seattle, could he become a key target for Detroit? The notion of playing alongside his friend and former teammate Golden Tate could be enticing and the metrics speak for themselves: Kearse ranked fifth in DVOA in 2015 and caught passes at a 72 percent completion rate. All this was done when he was ostensibly a second target behind Doug Baldwin. He's not liable to have top money thrown his way, but if he enters the market expect someone to pay him...perhaps, the Lions?
Travis Benjamin is working on a new deal with the Browns and seems to favor new head coach Hue Jackson. It would take a complete breakdown of negotiations to see him open, but should that happen he'll quickly become a curious target for some teams. He racked up 933 yards, made more impressive by the fact that the quarterbacks throwing to him were a Roomba and a drunk woman-beating Roomba. That said (and problematic house-cleaning robots aside), his 54 percent completion rate leaves much to be desired and it may just be a matter of collecting numbers in a dumpster fire.
You know him, don't you? (Lance Moore)
Sometimes it's best just to go with what you know on the menu. You could try the sea urchin, but you know you love the California roll, right?
Lance Moore isn't quite in Roger Murtaugh territory yet but he's getting there. It's not likely that he'll find a better deal than the ones the Lions could offer him, although he was ostensibly brought along because of his familiarity with Joe Lombardi's system in New Orleans. Questions remain as to whether he wants to stay now that Jim Bob Cooter runs the show. Either way he's not going to be a no. 2 option, but rather he will just fill in when necessary or will find a home in the slot.