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Detroit Lions 2018 free agency preview: Depth options for Lions’ WR corps

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A look at some options to help round out the Lions’ depth at wide receiver.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are in pretty good shape when it comes to their starting wide receivers. Not only are all of them signed through the 2018 season, but Detroit is getting most of them on very team-friendly deals. However, once you get past the top three receivers on the depth chart, things get a little shaky.

So here’s a look at the Lions’ receiver situation heading into free agency.

Wide receivers

Under contract (Final year of contract in parentheses)

  • Marvin Jones Jr. (2020)
  • Golden Tate (2018)
  • Kenny Golladay (2020)
  • Andy Jones (2019)
  • Bradley Marquez (2018)
  • Dontez Ford (2019)
  • Jace Billingsley (2019)

The Lions are pretty well set up for the 2018 season with their top three receivers already locked in. However, the Lions need to start thinking about the future with or without Golden Tate. If the Lions aren’t into the idea of signing a soon-to-be 30-year-old Tate to an extension this offseason, they need to seriously start thinking about a replacement.

Their depth is also lacking right now. Between Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Dontez Ford and Jace Billingsley there are 16 career receptions, all from Marquez.

Lions free agents

  • TJ Jones (RFA)

If there’s one easy fix to the Lions’ depth problem, it’s TJ Jones. Jones had a breakout year as the Lions’ fourth receiver in 2017, catching 30 passes for 399 yards and a touchdown.

However, the Lions aren’t expected to offer him an RFA tender and Jones is coming off a serious shoulder injury that required surgery. There is reported interest in bringing him back, but Jones may want to test free agency after a career year.

Free agents available

The Lions aren’t going to be in the market for a top-line receiver, unless they’re already planning to move on from Tate. That seems unlikely, so here are a few free agents who could help fill out their depth while potentially offering some special teams value.

Andre Roberts (age 30)

Two years ago, the Lions signed Roberts as a depth piece, and he surprised many by not only making the roster, but by being an integral special teams piece as a returner.

Last year with the Falcons he filled a similar role and was remained quite efficient as a returner. Roberts finished third in kickoff return yards (860) and ninth in average yards per return (22.6).

The Lions don’t need a return specialist for punts, as Jamal Agnew has that on lock down, but Detroit could use a kickoff returner and some specialist depth.

Taylor Gabriel (age 27)

Gabriel carved out a pretty good two years with the Atlanta Falcons as the team’s No. 3 receiver. He caught over 30 passes in each season and a total of 957 yards and seven touchdowns in the two years.

Gabriel is a big play receiver thanks to some speed and shiftiness. Though he doesn’t have a ton of special teams experience, he could certainly serve as a stand-in for Golden Tate:

He’d probably be a little pricey for a WR4 should the Lions try to sign him in free agency, but regardless, he’d be reliable depth and could even vouch for some regular playing time.

Jeff Janis (age 26)

A Michigan native, the former Packers special teams ace could provide value to the Lions this year. Janis hasn’t served as Green Bay’s primary kick returner, but he’s averaged 24.7 yards per kick return on 23 attempts in his four years there.

However, he’s actually valuable all over for special teams. As a gunner on punt coverage duties, Janis helped Green Bay rank sixth in punt return average allowed.

The Lions have clearly valued that skillset since Bob Quinn took over, and with Don Carey’s future with the team up in the air, Janis could be a cheaper, younger option.

Danny Amendola (age 32)

Let’s just address the elephant in the room. Danny Amendola is a former Patriot and the Lions are filled with former personnel employees from New England. At 32, Amendola is certainly slowing down and will likely be discounted in free agency.

Still, I don’t really see this as a realistic option for Detroit. He’s essentially a luxury at this point, seeing as though he’d command real playing time. He caught 61 passes last year with the Patriots, and while the Lions could always use more weapons, this seems like a poor choice to use their limited resources on.