It’s all too common for NFL teams to use free agency as an attempt to acquire players the front office and coaching staff are familiar with. Almost all 32 franchises are guilty of this bias, but that’s not to say it’s always a bad decision—after all, better the devil you know than the one you don’t. However, it is clearly a trend worth considering as free agency is just a mere week and a half away.
Last year, Quinn brought in four players he was familiar with from his Patriots days: Tavon Wilson, Stevan Ridley, Jonathan Bostic and Clay Harbor. So, we gathered a list of notable players scheduled to become free agents that have ties to the Lions organization via Bob Quinn. Let’s see what familiar faces he may be targeting this offseason.
WR Michael Floyd - Floyd doesn’t exactly have a direct connection with Bob Quinn. Floyd was picked up toward the end of the 2016 season after the Arizona Cardinals cut him in the aftermath of an ugly DUI. Still, considering how fast the Patriots picked him up, it’s likely he was well-known by the Patriots scouting staff before the incident.
The Lions have a pretty big need for their WR3 position, but this doesn’t seem like a good fit considering Floyd is likely to be hit with a multi-game suspension in 2017.
WR Brandon LaFell - LaFell started his career with the Panthers, but the Patriots inked him to a three-year deal in 2014 when Quinn was the acting director of pro scouting. In his first year in New England, LaFell posted career highs in nearly every major receiving category: 74 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns. His production, though, dropped severely the next year and the Patriots ended up cutting him in 2016. Last year with the Bengals, LaFell enjoyed another impressive season, hauling in 64 passes for 862 yards and six touchdowns.
Despite being 30 years old, LaFell still has a lot left in the tank—according to NFL.com’s Matt Harmon, he was the fourth-best No. 2 receiver at creating separation in 2016. However, the Lions aren’t really in the market for a No. 2 receiver, and LaFell may be too pricey for Quinn. Last year, he shelled out for Marvin Jones, and while the Lions may need to replace Anquan Boldin this year, that was a position they spent just $2.75 million on in 2016. LaFell will likely command more than that.
TE Martellus Bennett - Again, this is a bit of a pseudo-connection to Quinn as Bennett joined the Patriots after Quinn had already left. However, knowing how the Patriots operate, they likely had their eyes on Bennett long before Quinn left.
Either way, Bennett is going to be one of the more pricier options at tight end in free agency, and while the Lions have a need there, it seems unlikely they’ll go after the big name.
RB LeGarrette Blount - For the second straight year, Blount will hit free agency. Blount led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 and possesses the hard-nosed running style Lions fans have been desperate for since Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were shelved with injuries last season. Blount’s efficiency has slowly declined over his years, but he could fit as a potential short-yardage back if he’s willing to take on a reduced role.
RB Danny Woodhead - On the other side of the spectrum, we have Danny Woodhead, who is in the exact mold of Theo Riddick. While Bob Quinn is plenty familiar with Woodhead from Danny’s three years in New England, he already has one of those.
DT Alan Branch - The former Wolverine has spent his last three seasons in New England after the Patriots originally signed him to a one-year deal in 2014. Branch has slowly seen his numbers increase every year in Foxborough, culminating in his career-high 49 tackles this season en route to a Super Bowl championship.
Branch is more of a nose-tackle in a 3-4 system, and at 32 years old, he’s no longer in the twilight of his career, but he has started 31 of the Patriots’ last 32 games. If the Lions can find a fit for him in their defensive system, he could be with a small, short-term deal.
DT Terrell McClain - The former Panthers third-round pick has had a rough career since entering the league in 2011. He has already spent time with four different teams, and his stint with the Patriots lasted just six days.
However, McClain did enjoy a bit of a resurgence last year with the Cowboys. He started 15 games—the first time he started any games since his rookie year—notching 40 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Though Quinn may not have liked what he saw the first time around, McClain will be an interesting and cheap option for teams looking to upgrade their defensive line.
DE Chris Long - Though Long didn’t join the Patriots until 2016, Quinn is obviously familiar with Long since he nearly signed the defensive end last offseason. Long likely wouldn’t be a starter despite Detroit’s clear need for a starting-caliber player opposite Ezekiel Ansah, but the former No. 2 overall pick still has a lot of value as a rotational player.
DE Jabaal Sheard - Sheard signed a two-year deal with the Patriots in 2015 and has since been a rotational player along the Patriots’ busy defensive line. Since joining New England, Sheard has accumulated 70 tackles and 13.0 sacks in just 28 games. Sheard is also just 27 years old and is a highly versatile player. While that makes him a very attractive option in Detroit, it also means he could come with a hefty price tag. We’ll see if Quinn is willing to foot that bill for a guy like Sheard.
LB Dont’a Hightower - Speaking of footing a heavy bill, Hightower is considered one of the biggest free agents on the market. The soon-to-be 27-year-old linebacker fits a big need for the Detroit Lions and is playing at a very high level right now. Hightower was Pro Football Focus’ 12th-best linebacker in all of football last year, grading out well above average both in run defense and—most importantly to the Lions—pass coverage.
Hightower reportedly turned down more than $10 million a year before the start of this season, and you can only imagine he’ll be looking for more after the year he had in 2016. It’s a good fit in Detroit, but one they may not be able to afford.
CB Logan Ryan - Ryan was drafted by the Patriots in 2013 and assumed a regular starting role opposite Malcolm Butler in 2015. Since then, Ryan has 25 passes defended and six interceptions. In 2016, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 16th-best cornerback in the league, one spot above Darius Slay.
Ryan fits best in the slot, which was a huge liability for the Lions in 2016. Though Quandre Diggs showed promise in 2015, last year was a bit of a disaster for him. Ryan would make an excellent fit in Detroit if the Lions are willing to shell out some money for him. Spotrac lists his market value at $14.4 million per year, but that seems like a gross over-exaggeration. Expect to see him more around the $7-8 million range.
CB Darius Butler - Butler presents a much cheaper option than Ryan. The former Patriots second-round draft pick has seen his production slowly decline with the Indianapolis Colts over the past five years. Still, the 30-year-old cornerback would be a decent option for the Lions to add some competition at the nickel corner position. The veteran defender recently added some safety skills to his repertoire making him a cheap, versatile option for any team needing help in the secondary. In 2016, Butler ranked a respectable 20th among all cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus.