Detroit Lions free agency preview: Offense

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Running back Mark Ingram, a Flint product, has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his career.

This is the first in a two-part series assessing the Detroit Lions' position-by-position situation heading into free agency. Today, we'll look at the offense. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 11. The signing period opens March 13 at 4 p.m.


Under contract: Matthew Stafford, Connor Cook

Lions free agents: Matt Cassel

Best available: Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor

With Jake Rudock opting for a fresh start in Miami, and Cassel about to turn 37 years old, the Lions would benefit from adding a younger, yet still experienced backup to the mix, just in case this is the season Stafford’s body can’t hold up through the physical punishment. Of course, that’s assuming the Lions aren’t sold on Cook as the answer.

Foles is reportedly heading to Jacksonville, not that he was in play for the Lions. He’ll command starting money with his resume. And Bridgewater is likely to seek a situation with a less stable starter. A better bet would be someone like Brock Osweiler, who is still young and has some mobility.

Running back

Lions running back Zach Zenner averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 55 attempts last season.

Under contract: Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Nick Bawden, Kerwynn Williams, Mark Thompson

Lions free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Zach Zenner, Nick Bellore

Best available: Le’Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, Mark Ingram, T.J. Yeldon

With the way Zenner finished last season, he's earned an expanded opportunity. The question is whether it will be in Detroit or somewhere else? The Lions need to find a complement for Johnson, and bringing back Zenner might be the simplest solution, although it would lack excitement.

If Detroit is looking to pay a premium, Ingram remains a strong fit. The Flint product has had a productive career, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in a variety of timeshare situations in New Orleans. Plus, he's a capable receiver out of the backfield and pass blocker. 

Wide receivers

Under contract: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Andy Jones, Brandon Powell, Brandon Reilly, Deontez Alexander, Chris Lacy

Lions free agents: TJ Jones, Bruce Ellington

Best available: Golden Tate, John Brown, Adam Humphries, Tyrell Williams, Devin Funchess, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder

Receiver Adam Humphries caught 76 passes for 816 yards and five scores last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, working mostly out of the slot.

The decision to trade Tate in the middle of last season took away Detroit's best weapon in the quick passing game. The team will need to find a replacement this offseason to complement the downfield capabilities of Marvin Jones and Golladay. 

Tate will be on the market, and many Lions fans will want him back. You never want to say never, but that ship likely has sailed after the two sides were unable to agree to an extension last year. 

Humphries might cost less, per season, than what Tate is looking for and he's five years younger. Primarily operating out of the slot for Tampa Bay last season, Humphries caught 76 passes for 816 yards and five scores. Along with that production, he finished in the top-10 at his position with 414 yards after the catch. He's also pretty durable, having missed just one game the past three years. 

Tight ends

Under contract: Michael Roberts, Jerome Cunningham

Lions free agents: Levine Toilolo, Luke Willson

Best available: Jesse James, Jared Cook, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tyler Kroft, Tyler Eifert, Nick Boyle

There might not be a more glaring need on the roster than tight end. It would be helpful to bring back Toilolo, who finished the year on a high note as both a pass catcher and blocker, but it's just as likely the team bites the bullet and completely overhauls the room. 

Free agency isn't filled with many good options. James, 24, is probably the best, looking at it from a long-term perspective. He'll be just 25 years old at the start of the season and has caught at least 30 passes while playing all 16 games each of the past three years. He's also an above-average blocker. 

If the Lions want to consider more specialized options, James O'Shaughnessy or Luke Stocker would be solid blocking choices. Eifert is a talented, high-risk, high-reward name. He's a proven producer in the red zone, but has missed eight or more games in four of the past five seasons. 

The health of guard T.J. Lang could determine how the Lions address their offensive line in free agency.

Offensive line

Under contract: Taylor Decker, Rick Wagner, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, T.J. Lang, Kenny Wiggins, Tyrell Crosby, Joe Dahl, Leo Koloamatangi

Lions free agents: Andrew Donnal

Best available: Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James, Daryl Williams, Rodger Saffold, Ramon Foster, Matt Paradis, Mitch Morse

The Lions still have a decision to make with Lang. If he sticks on the roster, the team might not need to address the position group in free agency at all, unless there's a way to improve the interior depth. 

If Detroit parts ways with Lang, there's suddenly a massive hole at right guard. The team tried its best to sell us on Wiggins last year, but he isn't starting caliber. And there's little reason to believe Dahl is going to suddenly make the leap from healthy scratch to reliable option. There's also Crosby, but to this point, the team has been pretty focused on developing him as a tackle. 

Saffold will be the best guard on the market, proving to be consistently above-average in both pass protection and run blocking. He'll be 31 to start the year, but has missed just two games in the past three seasons. 

A cheaper option would be Ted Karras, a three-year backup in New England. Pro Football Focus has graded him favorably the past two years over more than 300 snaps, suggesting he could be ready for a bigger opportunity.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers