Will Heller helped fill the void at tight end when rookie Brandon Pettigrew was lost for the year because of injury. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
The agent for tight end Will Heller, one of the Lions' pending unrestricted free agents, said he's optimistic a deal will get done -- possibly as soon as today -- to keep the eight-year veteran in Detroit.
"Will likes it there in Detroit, and it's a good situation for him," agent Phillip Williams said.
Heller, a reliable blocker and receiver, had 29 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns last season. And with starter Brandon Pettigrew rehabbing from a torn ACL, re-signing Heller became an even bigger priority.
Tackle Jon Jansen's another veteran who could re-sign soon. But most of the Lions' other pending UFAs -- including quarterback Daunte Culpepper, linebacker Larry Foote, tight end Casey FitzSimmons, cornerback Will James and safety Marquand Manuel -- likely will head to free agency, though Lions president Tom Lewand said Thursday, "We are still in conversation with a lot of them."
Free agent lowdown
The Lions opted to retain the rights to seven of their nine restricted free agents, tendering one-year offers. That gives the team the right to match any offer those players receive in free agency. In five of the cases, the Lions also would receive draft-choice compensation if the players signed with another team.
Defensive end Copeland Bryan and linebacker Cody Spencer didn't receive tenders and are unrestricted free agents.
There are five levels of RFA tenders available for NFL teams-- ranging from no compensation to first- and third-round picks -- along with varying salary requirements.
Defensive end Jason Hunter ($1.759 million) received a second-round tender -- the highest of the Lions' RFAs -- meaning another team would have to send the Lions a second-round pick in 2011 if the Lions chose not to match an offer sheet. Hunter, claimed off waivers from the Packers last offseason, had five sacks and 34 tackles in 14 games in 2009.
"Jason contributed last year in a pretty significant way," Lewand said. "I think he showed that he has an ability to contribute even more as he stays in the system and finds his role. ... Defensive ends are valuable commodities in this league. It's a valuable position and Jason had some production there last year."
Cornerback Kevin Hobbs ($1.101 million) and guard Daniel Loper ($1.226 million) received the lowest-level tenders. The Lions have the right of first refusal but wouldn't receive any compensation if they let them leave.
The Lions would receive a third-round compensation pick for safety Daniel Bullocks ($1.176 million), and fourth-round picks if they lose guards Dylan Gandy ($1.101 million) or Manny Ramirez ($1.101 million) or safety Ko Simpson ($1.176 million).
The Lions also made qualifying offers to their exclusive-rights free agents -- players with less than three accrued NFL seasons. That effectively locks up linebacker Zack Follett , cornerback DeAngelo Smith , offensive tackle Corey Hilliard , tight end Jake Nordin and running back Cedric Peerman .
By the numbers
1: Defensive player (LB Ernie Sims) among Lions' 12 first-round picks since 2000
2: Quarterbacks drafted in first round by Lions in last decade
3: Offensive tackles drafted in first round by Lions in last decade
3 Wide receivers drafted in first round by Lions in last decade
Wish upon a superstar
The Lions have their wish list heading into free agency, but here are several players they could -- or should -- target:
|Chester Taylor||RB||Minnesota||Trying to keep him, but Taylor wants starter's money|
|Kyle Vanden Bosch||DE||Tennessee||Ideal veteran leader for Titans still has something left|
|Aaron Kampman||DE||Green Bay||Young, productive in 4-3 scheme, but coming off ACL tear|
|Kevin Walter||WR||Houston||Only 28, he's solid No. 2 or 3 receiver with good size and hands|
|Kassim Osgood||WR||San Diego||Chargers' special-teams ace want to play receiver, too|
|Bobbie Williams||G||Cincinnati||At 33, strong run blocker buys time to groom rookie|
|Ryan Clark||S||Pittsburgh||If he comes free, big hitter could help solidify secondary|
|Nate Burleson||WR||Seattle||Had best season in 2004 under then-Vikings coordinator Scott Linehan|
NFL teams will spend much of the next month on the road attending prospect pro days on college campuses. Some key dates: