If an NFL player is facing an expiring contract with fewer than three accrued seasons in the league, they aren’t a normal free agent free to sign anywhere when the new league hits. They are what’s called an exclusive-rights free agent (or ERFA), which comes with a whole different set of rules that make it very easy and simple for the team to retain these players. We’ll get to those rules in a minute.
For the Detroit Lions, two players are set to become exclusive rights free agents: cornerbacks Dee Virgin and Mike Ford. Because both face similar situations, we’re going to look at their future together.
Previously in this series:
- Miles Killebrew (click here)
- Rashaan Melvin (click here)
- Jeff Driskel (click here)
- Tavon Wilson (click here)
- A’Shawn Robinson (click here)
- Sam Martin (click here)
- Mike Daniels (click here)
- Danny Amendola (click here)
- Graham Glasgow (click here)
- Kenny Wiggins (click here)
- Jermaine Kearse (click here)
- Don Muhlbach (click here)
- J.D. McKissic (click here)
- Oday Aboushi (click here)
- Darius Kilgo (click here)
- Logan Thomas (click here)
Mike Ford and Dee Virgin
Expectations before 2019
Mike Ford was coming off a promising finish to the 2018 season. It seemed unlikely he’d win a starting role with the Lions in 2010, but he had shown a lot more potential than former second-round pick Teez Tabor. His job as a backup seemed particularly safe, but with the drafting of Amani Oruwariye, nothing was certain.
As for Virgin, he was pretty much an afterthought. Though he played four games as mostly a special teamer in 2018, not many expected him to be part of the team’s plans in 2019. And considering both Virgin and Ford had practice squad eligibility, there was no guaranteed either would make the final 53-man squad
Actual Role in 2019
2019 stats: 15 games (2 starts): 12 tackles, 2 pases defended
PFF Grade: 56.9
Mike Ford got two starts in 2019, both when Darius Slay was ruled out for the week. In the first, Ford and the rest of the Lions secondary held up fairly well against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. In the other game, the Lions successfully defeated the Giants.
Ford didn’t make too much of an impact on defense in 2019, but he remained an integral part of the team’s special teams units, including the all-important gunner role.
2019 stats: 15 games (0 starts): 9 tackles, 1 forced fumble (only 1 defensive snap)
PFF Grade: 51.5
Dee Virgin may have only played one defensive snap all season, but no player on the entire Lions roster played more special teams snaps than Virgin (360).
Per TeamRankings.com, Virgin finished with 10 special teams tackles (unofficial, which is why it doesn’t match the totals above), which ranked third on the team and 22nd in the entire NFL.
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Exclusive rights free agent
The case for re-signing:
For ERFAs, the answer is almost always re-sign. That’s because it’s incredibly easy and cheap to do so. Teams can offer ERFAs a one-year contract worth the league minimum, and the player cannot negotiate. They either accept the deal from the team or sit out the entire season.
Considering both Virgin and Ford played big roles on special teams, there is no downside to offering both players the one-year minimum and letting them compete to retain (or grow) their roles in 2020.
The case against re-signing:
There is none. Both players were significant contributors on a fairly good special teams unit, and they can return on an extremely cheap deal.
The Lions will almost certainly get this done for both players. They did it with special teamer Charles Washington last season, and it would be a shock if either player was gone before training camp.