Offseason In Review: Detroit Lions

The Lions had 23 free agents and only $18.44MM worth of cap space this offseason, leading to some tough choices over the spring. Their limited space also meant saying farewell to a defensive superstar.

Notable signings:

The Lions had to kiss a lot of frogs before finding their kicking prince in 2014. Eventually, they settled on Matt Prater and locked him up to a three-year extension worth $9MM. Prater, 30, began the 2014 season by serving a four-game suspension in Denver for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and was ultimately cut by the Broncos, ending a seven-year tenure with the club. After signing with the Lions, Prater was a little shaky in his first few games, but settled down and ended up making 21 of 26 field goal attempts. In 2013, he was a Pro Bowler, making all but one of 26 field goal attempts for the Broncos.

Back in February, Lions GM Martin Mayhew said that he would like to retain Mathis for the 2015 season and praised Mathis’ “position versatility.” In mid-March, he was able to check that off on his offseason to-do list. In 2014, Mathis started all 16 regular season games for the Lions, finishing with 54 total tackles, one interception for a touchdown, and two forced fumbles. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) placed him as the 12th best cornerback in the entire NFL last season with an overall score of 9.1. For reference, that posting put him ahead of such notables as Chris Culliver, Brandon Flowers, Aqib Talib, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Before the start of free agency, the Lions locked up both of Matthew Stafford‘s backups – Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore. Orlovsky, 31, didn’t see game action in 2014, as Stafford stayed healthy for the whole season. The former Buccaneer last played in a regular season game in 2012 for Tampa Bay. Moore, 25, didn’t come close to appearing in a regular-season game for the Lions in 2014, and has yet to appear in a game during his three-year NFL career. However, the team was likely impressed by his performance during the preseason last year — Moore completed 35 of 51 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions during those exhibition games, with a passer rating of 108.4.

Isa Abdul-Quddus isn’t a big-name player, but as Birkett notes, he’s a valuable backup and a key player on special teams, where he racked up five tackles. He did end up starting four games last season, and posted 22 total tackles on the year. The Lions originally claimed the 25-year-old off waivers from the Saints last February.

Linebacker Josh Bynes, a restricted free agent, was not tendered an offer by the Lions, but he was re-signed at a lower rate. The 25-year-old appeared in 26 games for the Ravens from 2011 through 2014 and made nine starts along the way. He began the season on the Ravens’ taxi squad, but the Lions signed him to their active roster in late September.

Wide receiver Greg Salas, a fourth-round pick by the Rams in 2011, has bounced around the league a bit over the years but hopes to have a longer stay with the Lions. Over the course of his four-year NFL career, the 26-year-old has accumulated 43 receptions, including eight last year for New York — most of those catches came in Salas’ rookie season, when he hauled in 27 balls for the Rams.

Notable losses:

All season long, the possible departure of Ndamukong Suh hovered over Ford Field like a dark cloud. In March, what many viewed as the inevitable took place when Suh inked a lucrative free agent deal elsewhere. The good news for the Lions is that they won’t have to see a whole lot of their former start defensive tackle since he signed on with the AFC’s Dolphins. By PFF’s count, Suh racked up 72 total quarterback pressures in 2013, well ahead of any other DT besides Gerald McCoy, and he generated 57 quarterback pressures in 2014, tops in the league among defensive tackles. Another notable name, who we’ll get to in a bit, will now be charged with stuffing the run in Detroit.

Suh was the most notable defensive tackle to leave the Lions this offseason, but he wasn’t the only one. Nick Fairley inked a one-year deal with the Rams that will pay him a base of $5MM with incentives that can take him up to $7.5MM. Fairley had his 2014 season derailed by injuries, but he was very effective when healthy, as evidence by the widespread interest in him in March. A former 13th overall pick, Fairley had his best season in 2013, when he recorded 35 tackles and six sacks to go along with a pair of forced fumbles. Despite that impressive showing, the Lions elected not to exercise his relatively inexpensive ($5.477MM) fifth-year option for the 2015 season, allowing him to reach free agency.

Reggie Bush, 30, spent the last two seasons in Detroit. The former second overall pick had an excellent season in 2013, racking up more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage in just 14 games, establishing a new career high. However, he was plagued by injuries in 2014, and wasn’t overly effective when he did play. Overall, Bush accumulated just 297 yards on the ground and another 253 through the air in 11 games. Having inked a four-year, $16MM contract two years ago, Bush had been under contract through the 2016 season. A total of $3.556MM in dead money will now count toward the Lions’ cap in 2015.

Joining Suh in Miami will be defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who hooked on just last month. Although he wasn’t as coveted a free agent as his ex-Lions teammate, Mosley was a solid contributor in Detroit last season as well. Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required) ranked him 26th out of 81 qualified defensive tackles, viewing him as slightly above average against both the pass and the run.

Over the years, Dominic Raiola became synonymous with two things: the Detroit Lions and dirty play. He’ll no longer be a part of the former in 2015 and it’s not clear if he’ll get a chance to show off the latter anywhere else. The veteran center was not re-signed as 2014 third-rounder Travis Swanson appears poised to take over the position.

Rob Sims, 31, helped give the Lions stability at left guard when he joined the team in 2010. Now, after his contract lapsed, he’s still looking for work. The veteran struggled early on in 2014 as he continued to recover from offseason injuries. He allowed two sacks against the Bills in Week 5 and garnered a negative grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in half of the Lions’ first ten games. But once his injuries started to get behind him, Sims played well down the stretch. Starting in Week 11 against the Cardinals Sims earned a positive grade from PFF in every game.

Andre Fluellen, 30, spent nearly all of his career with the Lions since being drafted by the team in the third round back in 2008. However, he never played a significant role in Detroit, acting as a part-time contributor over the course of 77 career games (75 with Detroit). In 2014, Fluellen recorded 10 tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery in 183 defensive snaps. We’ll have to see if he takes on a bigger role with the Bills in 2015.


  • Acquired DT Haloti Ngata and a 2015 seventh-round pick from the Ravens in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2015 fifth-round pick.
  • Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick from the Buccaneers in exchange for DE George Johnson (RFA) and a 2015 seventh-round pick.
  • Acquired a 2015 first-round pick (No. 28; G Laken Tomlinson), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 143), a 2016 fifth-round pick, and OL Manny Ramirez from the Broncos in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick (No. 23; DE/OLB Shane Ray).
  • Acquired a a 2015 third-round pick (No. 80; CB Alex Carter) from the Vikings in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 88; DE Danielle Hunter) and a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 143; TE MyCole Pruitt).
  • Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 113; DT Gabe Wright) from the Eagles in exchange for a 2016 third-round pick.

The Lions lost the heart and soul of their defense to free agency this offseason but they moved quickly to find a replacement. The Ravens expressed optimism they would be able to retain the 31-year-old Haloti Ngata via some sort of contract restructure involving either an extension or a pay reduction, but that was not the case. On March 10th, Detroit received Ngata and a seventh-round pick while sending a fourth- and fifth-round pick to the Ravens. Ngata is reuniting with Teryl Austin, Detroit’s defensive coordinator, who previously coached in Baltimore. The Lions will assume Ngata’s base salary of $8.5MM for the upcoming season. The nine-year veteran has started 133 games in his career, accruing 25.5 sacks.

Defensive end George Johnson tried to make the case that he should be classified as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but his battle fell short when the NFLPA eventually saw things Detroit’s way. As a restricted free agent, many expected that he would stay put in Detroit. The 27-year-old carved out a role for himself as the preferred bookend off of the bench in 2014 and the Bucs took notice, inking him to a three-year, $9MM deal. The pact included de-escalators for years two and three and the Lions initially disputed the offer sheet, saying that they were unclear on what exactly they had to match. Rather than get an arbitrator involved, the two sides agreed to a deal in which Detroit received a fifth-round choice for the defensive end.

Draft day was incredibly slow in terms of trades but the Lions made a move in the first round that armed them with multiple picks plus a veteran offensive lineman in Manny Ramirez. The Broncos were smitten with linebacker Shane Ray and when he fell to Detroit at No. 23, Denver came calling. The Lions grabbed guard Laken Tomlinson at No. 28.

Extensions and restructures:

Draft picks:

  • 1-28: Laken Tomlinson, G (Duke): Signed
  • 2-54: Ameer Abdullah, RB (Nebraska): Signed
  • 3-80: Alex Carter, CB (Stanford): Signed
  • 4-113: Gabe Wright, DT (Auburn): Signed
  • 5-168: Michael Burton, FB (Rutgers): Signed
  • 6-200: Quandre Diggs, CB (Texas): Signed
  • 7-240: Corey Robinson, T (South Carolina): Signed

By drafting Laken Tomlinson at No. 28, the Lions got themselves a very capable replacement for Rob Sims at left guard. The Duke standout started all four years in college and hasn’t allowed a sack in the last two seasons. Tomlinson was widely pegged as a second-round guy, but late in the first round was hardly a stretch for him. In his draft profile on Tomlinson, Mike Mayock of cited his lack of range and athleticism as a concern.

In the second round, the Lions found someone to help replenish the running back chart and potentially overtake Joique Bell as the No. 1 guy. Last year, Bell ran for 860 yards and seven TDs and showed that he can move the chains, even with a weak offensive line. Bell will probably be the Week 1 starter, but Abdullah could see more carries come his way as the season goes on.


In March, Mayhew expressed some uncertainty about Riley Reiff’s option, but it would’ve been a huge surprise if the club had actually declined the option. In April, they did what we all knew they would do. By exercising Reiff’s fifth-year option, the Lions extended the 26-year-old’s rookie contract by one year, keeping him locked up through the 2016 season. In 2014, Reiff’s Pro Football Focus grade (subscription required) placed him in a tie for 23rd out of 84 qualified offensive tackles.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Calvin Johnson, WR: $20,558,000
  2. Matthew Stafford, QB: $17,721,250
  3. Ndamukong Suh, DT: $9,737,500 (dead money)
  4. Haloti Ngata, DT: $8,500,000
  5. Stephen Tulloch, LB: $5,800,000
  6. Golden Tate, WR: $5,350,000
  7. Ezekiel Ansah, DE: $5,071,228
  8. DeAndre Levy, LB: $4,500,000
  9. Jason Jones, DE: $3,983,334
  10. Chris Houston, CB: $3,900,000 (dead money)

After finishing 11-5 and securing a Wild Card in 2014, the Lions will look to take a step forward in 2015 and overtake the Packers for the divisional crown. The big question is, how will their defense fair without one of the league’s most tenacious lineman?

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

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One comment on “Offseason In Review: Detroit Lions

  1. Luke Adams

    Suh’s departure was obviously the big one for the Lions, but the fact that they also lost Fairley, Mosley, and Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked. That defensive line will look a lot different this year, and while I think Ngata still has something left in the tank, he’ll need plenty of help if they’re going to come anywhere close to replicating the success of last year’s unit.

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