Lions will tender Johnson, not Moore or Bynes
Indianapolis — The Lions are still making decisions about how to handle many of their 23 pending free agents, but general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday he knows what he'll do with the team's restricted free agents.
George Johnson, who had six sacks as the team's third defensive end in 2014, will receive a tender from the Lions, Mayhew told local reporters Friday morning at the NFL combine. Even though Johnson has been in the NFL since 2010, he hasn't accrued three full years of service, making him a restricted free agent.
However, the two other restricted free agents — linebacker Josh Bynes and quarterback Kellen Moore — will not be tendered, but the Lions do want to re-sign them. Mayhew said this is an important offseason for Moore to show growth after serving as the No. 3 quarterback the last three seasons and being inactive every game.
"I think another year of development has been good for Kellen," Mayhew said. "I think obviously you go to training camp and he gets all of his work in then, so during the season there's not a whole lot he can do on the field. He can learn the game, he can watch tape, he can study things, but there's not a whole lot he can show us in terms of his on-field performance.
Teams can tender restricted free agents at different levels that ensure they receive compensation in the draft if a player signs with another team, and even without a tender, the Lions will have a chance to match any offer Bynes or Moore receives.
Mayhew also said the Lions plan to re-sign wide receiver Jeremy Ross, who's an exclusive-rights free agent. The Lions can offer Ross a three-year minimum contract, and he'll have to accept it.
Even though Ross struggled as a returner last year, there is no risk for the Lions to re-sign him.
As for the other free agents, Mayhew was non-committal.
"We haven't closed the door on anybody," he said.
The Lions are pursuing an extension with All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and have decided not to re-sign veteran center Dominic Raiola, but other free agents — including guard Rob Sims, cornerback Rashean Mathis and kicker Matt Prater — could return, too.
Mayhew said he planned to meet with the agents for defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Prater on Friday night.
"He was obviously a life-saver for us last year coming in the way that he did and I think he got stronger as the year went on," Mayhew said of Prater. "Toward the end of the year, man, he was kicking great, so I think he can get back to where he was as a player.
Prater finished the season 21 of 26 after becoming the Lions' third kicker of 2014.
He's expressed a desire to return to Detroit, the team that first signed him as a rookie before he had years of success in Denver.
Quarterback Dan Orlovsky, like Moore, is a free agent, and the Lions could pursue a new deal with him to keep a veteran presence in that position group. Among the other top free agents are long snapper Don Muhlbach, defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, offensive tackle Corey Hilliard and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
"We reached out to a few guys and said, 'Hey, you know what, take a look at what your options are. We may not bring you back,' " Mayhew said.
"And then there's some other guys we've reached out to, I've been in contact with the agents. We plan on getting together here in Indy, but I don't want to get into individual names because we may bring some of those guys back depending on what happens and circumstances."