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2019 Detroit Lions free agency preview: Tight end is the Lions’ biggest need

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The Lions should be active in free agency. Here’s a look at their top options at tight end.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have a tight end problem. Still hungover from their financial decision to cut Eric Ebron, the Lions failed to fix their tight end issues last year, and they’re left in an almost identical situation this year.

General manager Bob Quinn has made it publicly known that he tried like hell to get a good tight end last year, and you can bet your bottom dollar he’s going to do it again this year.

Here is our Lions tight end free agent preview:

Currently under contract

Michael Roberts

  • Signed through 2020
  • $795,784 cap hit in 2019

Jerome Cunningham

  • Signed through 2019
  • $645,000

Pending free agents

Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo

Level of need: 10/10

Without taking into account importance of each position, it’s hard to argue there’s a greater need on the Lions roster than tight end. The Lions only have two currently signed to the roster, and while there’s always some optimism that a young guy like Michael Roberts can develop into a solid starter, he has yet to show it in two years. Detroit currently has zero starters at the position, and only one that can serve as a potential backup. This is bad, y’all.

The two pending free agents served their one year in Detroit and are not expected to return. Expect the Lions to hit this position hard in the offseason.

Top free agents available

Tyler Eifert - Perhaps the best receiving threat on the market, Eifert’s one and only concern is injuries. Unfortunately, it’s a massive concern. The 28-year-old tight end has played in just 14 games in the past three seasons combined. In his six seasons in the NFL, Eifert has started in more than two games just twice. He’s still trying to recapture the magic of his 2015 Pro Bowl season in which he caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Jesse James - The young guy of the bunch, James (24) will probably be the most sought-after tight end on the market. A well-rounded player, James can block well (especially in the passing game) and he’s a threat as a receiver. In his past three seasons, he has a combined 112 catches for 1142 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jared Cook - Ask the Pride of Detroit staff whether the Lions should sign soon-to-be 32-year-old Cook, and you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask. Mike Payton says no. Mansur Shaheen says yes. No one comes with more pedigree and production that Cook, and he’s actually coming off his best statistical season (896 yards, 6 TDs).

Best fit

Jesse James - If the Lions are serious about fixing their tight end problem—in the long-term this time—they need to make a strong play for Jesse James. He’s young, he’s improving, and he’s the well-rounded blocking/receiving tight end the Lions are looking for. He’s probably going to cost a little extra, but the Lions are desperate. Short of making an aggressive trade for a tight end, this is one of the more logical moves the Lions could make.