Detroit Lions - 2014 Off-season Overview
2013 Team Ranks: Offense (run 17th, pass 3rd), Defense (run 6th, pass 23rd)
Season Recap: The Lions are committed to Matthew Stafford as their QB as evidenced by the five year $77 million contract they handed him before the 2013 season. The 26 year-old #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has averaged 290+ YPG over the past three seasons, but his turnovers have become a concern. Stafford had a monster 2011 season -- finishing with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions-- but the past two seasons have been somewhat mediocre (20 TDs: 17 INTs in 2012 and 29 TDs: 19 INTs in 2013). Stafford has not missed a game over the past three seasons after two injury plagued campaigns in 2009/2010 (missed 19 games over his first two NFL seasons). He should remain a solid QB1 for 2014, but be aware that Stafford has finished as top five fantasy QB just once so far (2011).
Giving Stafford help opposite Megatron should be a priority this offseason as Nate Burleson was released and Ryan Broyles has proven that his knees are less than reliable. Calvin Johnson was the #1 fantasy producer at his position in 2011 and 2012, but slipped slightly to the third best fantasy WR in standard leagues this past season (behind Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon). CJ battled a knee injury that required off season surgery, but still finished with 84 catches, 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns despite the weekly double teams. The 28-year-old has missed just five games during his first seven NFL seasons, while amassing 67 touchdowns. Over the past three seasons he's averaging 1,712 yards per season (111 YPG) and should remain in the discussion as a late first round pick (probably a better value as a mid second rounder in standard leagues).
Brandon Pettigrew is expected to leave Detroit via free agency, which could open the door for a few more Joseph Fauria touchdown dances in 2014. The rookie from UCLA posted pedestrian yardage (just 18 catches for 207 yards), but was a Stafford favorite in the red zone (seven touchdowns).
Reggie Bush signed a four year $16 million contract last offseason with Detroit and proved to be a wise investment. The soon to be 30-year-old back finished with 223 carries for 1,006 and four touchdowns on the ground, while adding 54 catches for 506 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Bush did miss two games due to injury, but has missed a total of just three games over the past three seasons after struggling with injuries during his five seasons in New Orleans (missed a total of 20 games). Bush finished as the #12 fantasy RB in standard leagues and his value would be elevated if Joique Bell leaves via free agency (stole eight touchdowns in 2013). Bell is expected to return to Detroit after he impressed in his third NFL season (166 carries for 650 yards – 3.9 YPC). The Wayne State alum has topped 50 catches in each of the past two seasons and should remain one of the better handcuffs to own for fantasy purposes.
Coaching Changes / Impact:
Jim Caldwell replaces Jim Schwartz (new Buffalo DC). The former Colts head coach (2009-2011) and most recently Ravens offensive coordinator struggled in Baltimore as the Ravens finished 29th in total offense (might not be music to the ears of Matt Stafford dynasty owners). Joe Lombardi (grandson of Vince Lombardi) has been New Orleans' quarterback coach since 2009 and will have another high flying aerial assault at his finger tips. The Lions have also hired Jim Bob Cooter as quarterbacks coach (spent last season with Peyton Manning in Denver). It's obvious the Lions front office are surrounding former #1 overall pick Matt Stafford with a ton of coaching experience in hopes that he can take things to the next level. Stafford's completion percentage has dipped three consecutive seasons, falling from 63% in 2011 to 60% in 2012 to 59% this past season. He also turned the ball over a career-worst 23 times in 2013.
Notable Free Agents:
RB Joique Bell (28), WR Nate Burleson (33), TE Brandon Pettigrew (29), K David Akers (39), CB Rashean Mathis (34), S Louis Delmas (27)
Lions re-signed RB Joique Bell to a three-year, $9.3 million contract.
Team Needs / Cap Space:
The Lions had the 21st most cap space on March 1st. They'll likely have to address most of their offseason needs via the draft unless they can convince Ndamukong Suh, Matt Stafford, or Calvin Johnson to restructure their monster contracts.
Cornerback: Detroit's 23rd ranked pass defense could use an upgrade. LCB Chris Houston was benched late in season and rookie Darius Slay was replaced by 33-year-old Rashean Mathis (due to hit free agency). The Lions should give serious consideration to using their 10th overall pick on CB Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) or Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State)
Wide Receiver: As mentioned above CJ needs a running mate, as the Lions second and third leading receivers from 2013 were RBs Reggie Bush (54 catches for 506 yards) and Joique Bell (53 catches for 547 yards). Kris Durham finished with 38 catches for 490 yards. The Titus Young and Ryan Broyles draft picks have not worked out to say the least and Nate Burleson is a free agent.
Detroit could look to stay within the division by targeting Packer free agent James Jones (led the league in TD catches in 2012). Steeler Emmanuel Sanders could also be a reasonable option. This draft class is very deep at WR, so a number of potential starters could be on the board in the second round (at pick #45). Mike Evans (Texas A&M) is a possibility at #10, but the Lions would be better off addressing their secondary with their first rounder based on the depth of talent at the WR position.
Safety: Louis Delmas was a cap casualty. Ha Ha Cltinon Dix (Alabama) will be considered in the first round but the better value is likely to target Jimmie Ward (North Illinois) if he still available in round 2. Free agents Jarius Byrd (Buffalo) and TJ Ward (Cleveland) will be too expensive for Detroit but Donte Whitner (SF) or Indy's Antoine Bethea could be an option depending on their price tag.
Tight End: Joseph Fauria sits atop the depth chart and despite his red one prowess, the Lions should address this position via the draft. With so many teams employing two tight end sets, Detroit will need to find an option as a pass catcher as Brandon Pettigrew is a free agent and Tony Scheffler was cut last October. Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington are potential second round targets (Eric Ebron from North Carolina is the only sure fire first rounder and taking him at #10 is not advisable for a team with bigger needs in the secondary). If Detroit decides to go the veteran route they could kick the tires on Green Bay's Jermichael Finley or Miami's Dustin Keller if they prove to be healthy.