Free agent could give Lions depth at receiver
This is the fifth in a series looking at positional needs for the Lions in free agency.
Allen Park – When Calvin Johnson opted for retirement, there was plenty of concern about the Detroit Lions’ ability to replace the perennial Pro Bowler’s production. But general manager Bob Quinn acted quickly in free agency, signing arguably the best option on the market in Marvin Jones.
Then, just before the start of training camp, Quinn lured veteran Anquan Boldin to Detroit.
Along with Golden Tate, the trio combined for 213 receptions for 2,591 yards and 16 touchdowns. Did the offense miss Johnson? Well, yeah. But the Lions sufficiently surrounded quarterback Matthew Stafford with adequate talent to get the job done.
Tate and Jones remain under contract and will anchor the passing attack. Whether you look at them as low-end No. 1 receivers or high-end No. 2 options, together they make a solid tandem. Boldin, who turns 37 in October, is undecided on his future. If the Lions can bring him back they should, but even if he doesn’t opt for retirement, he could find a more appealing option in free agency. Regardless, the Lions could use some depth.
Return man Andre Roberts is also a free agent. TJ Jones hasn’t shown much in three seasons. And although there’s a segment of fans enamored with his potential, 2016 undrafted rookie Jace Billingsley is unproven, having never taken a snap in a regular-season game.
The free-agent market is set to be headlined by Alshon Jeffery. And while the Lions could certainly use a proven big-bodied option on the outside, there’s little reason to believe the team will invest significant, long-term money into a third receiver. Teams are rarely successful when they overcommit funds to one unit.
The Lions paid Boldin about $3 million, so if the team addresses the need in free agency, that’s the likely range. That puts the team Lions in the market for someone like Kenny Britt or Kamar Aiken.
Britt has that big frame, at 6-foot-3, and is coming off a career year, which might drive up the price tag a bit. Conversely, Aiken’s production plummeted last season. Buried on the depth chart, he went from 75 catches the year before to 29 last season. The bonus with the 27-year-old Aiken is he has experience playing inside and outside.
Versatile return men must also be considered, especially if the team isn’t keen on TJ Jones as a long-term solution. Cordarrelle Patterson never lived up to his billing as a first-round pick, but a creative offensive coordinator should be able to find ways to get him involved and, regardless, you’ll always be able to fall back on elite return skills.
Tedd Ginn doesn’t offer the same threat as a return man these days, but few consistently blow the top off the defense like the speedy receiver. The Lions could always use another deep threat to stretch the field, but given the team’s struggles with drops last year, Ginn’s issues of putting balls on the ground might be enough to steer clear.
Lions WRs under contract: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, Andrew Turzilli, Ryan Spadola.
Lions free agents: Anquan Boldin, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones (restricted).
Top free agents: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor, Kenny Stills, Kenny Britt, Michael Floyd.