The franchise tag decision day is 48 hours away. Free agency will start in less than two weeks. All of those Detroit Lions questions about Ndamukong Suh and so much else will soon be answered definitively. As for your questions? Let's get to them now. As always, if you want to ask a question of the Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com or ask away on my Facebook page here. Now, on to this week's queries.

@mikerothstein: Not necessarily. The Lions still have bigger needs than running back and while Martin Mayhew continues to insist he'll continue with his best player available strategy, a lineman on offense or defense would certainly help. I'd expect Detroit to take a back somewhere in the draft and potentially in the first half of it. But guys like Boise State's Jay Ajayi, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Minnesota's David Cobb should be around in the second or third round. The Lions still have Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, so while I'd expect Detroit to take a running back at some point, it doesn't have to be in the first round by any stretch.

@mikerothstein: Tough to say, although from my understanding of compensatory picks, it would seem less likely than in prior years. While the Lions did lose Willie Young in free agency -- and he had a strong season for the Chicago Bears -- they did gain Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo. Tate was a Pro Bowler and Ihedigbo at received consideration for it. We won't know for sure on the compensatory picks until the owner's meetings next month, but it seems less likely this season than in other years.

@mikerothstein: In a word, no. If the Lions re-sign Suh, he'll be with the franchise for a long time. His contract will make it next to impossible to trade him and the team would have no interest in doing that, anyway. Detroit has made him its top offseason priority, so he's not getting traded if he remains.

@mikerothstein: Barring a move in free agency, I would anticipate the Lions drafting a running back at some point during the three-day draft. As mentioned above, that doesn't necessarily have to be in the first round and judging by Detroit's current backs -- Joique Bell was undrafted and Theo Riddick was a sixth round pick -- you don't need to draft a running back high to have success. Of course, of the all-time leading rushers, only one player in the top 10 was not a first-round pick -- Curtis Martin. Most of those rushers came from a different time in the league. The days of the featured back are much rarer now and teams place a premium on versatility in their backs. But I'd anticipate the Lions drafting a back at some point.

@mikerothstein: Tough to say right now because he hasn't been around the facility since the end of the season and most players are really starting to dig in to their offseason workouts for the most part. Any known quantities on Kyle Van Noy's development won't show up until at least April, when the team can return to Allen Park, Michigan, to start offseason training. The Lions clearly envision him being a future piece to their defense, but his role is going to be dictated by that development.

@mikerothstein: This is an interesting question -- and one Jim Caldwell dodged at the combine last week. Surprisingly, the pieces are there to make the switch to a 3-4 if the franchise wanted to during this offseason. There are a lot of holes at defensive tackle -- Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen are all free agents -- and some of the current ends on the roster have worked inside, notably Devin Taylor and Jason Jones. Plus, the team has good depth at linebacker and could roll out four good-to-competent starters in DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Tahir Whitehead and Kyle Van Noy if they really wanted to. That said, the preference appears to be to remain in a 4-3 but have the option to be as multiple as possible with the defense, which could include potential 3-4 looks. There were times last season when Van Noy worked out with the defensive ends. So that versatility mentioned with the running backs could come into play here, too.  
While a bunch of Detroit Lions free agents are still pending, the franchise took care of one potential need Friday afternoon, officially re-signing long snapper Don Muhlbach to a one-year contract.

General manager Martin Mayhew had indicated on the team's website last week that the Lions wanted him to return.

Though Muhlbach's contract details were not announced, he was paid the veteran minimum in 2014 against the cap (then $635,000) while making $955,000 in base salary along with a $65,000 signing bonus. The 33-year-old went to the Pro Bowl in 2012. He also spearheads the special teams operation by snapping to punter Sam Martin on punts and also when Martin holds on extra point and field goal attempts.

This leaves two-thirds of Detroit's kicking unit back for 2015 as Martin remains under contract. Kicker Matt Prater remains unsigned, although Mayhew said at the NFL combine that he was planning on meeting with Prater's agent while the two were in Indianapolis.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2015. Previous free agents profiled are here.

Johnson
Free agent to be: George Johnson

Position: Defensive end

Age: 27

Years in the league: 5

What he made last season: He had a cap charge of $570,000 and made $730,000 in base salary according to ESPN Stats & Information.

What he did last season: Johnson, who would have quit the NFL had he not made the Lions last season, turned in a career year and might have saved his NFL future. Receiving significant playing time for the first time, Johnson had 26 tackles and six sacks -- the first time in his career he had more than five tackles in a season and recorded a sack. He became a valuable rotational end for the Lions as a sub for Ezekiel Ansah.

His potential market value: This is where it is a little tricky. He was initially listed as an unrestricted free agent, but the Lions said last week they are planning on tendering Johnson. It turns out he is a restricted free agent after all. This means teams would be able to match whatever tender the Lions would place on him -- that has not been determined. If Johnson hits free agency with a small tender number, he could have a good amount of suitors.

Will he fit the Lions: Absolutely. He was one of the best finds of the last free-agent period for Detroit, taking someone who appeared to be a camp body and turning him into a viable NFL defensive end. He is a good backup to Ansah and a strong prospect as the team’s third defensive end. There’s a good reason the Lions are trying to tender him.

What happens: This is tough to call, but it would seem likely Detroit and Johnson will agree to a deal beyond one season and he’ll return to the Lions. The Lions have enough interest in keeping him to offer a tender. One way or the other, he should be part of the Lions in 2015, at least.
The Detroit Lions pretty much know what they would like to do when it comes to the franchise's specialists in 2015.

The team just hasn't acted on it yet. As of Friday morning, only one specialist -- Sam Martin -- is under contract for this season. Martin is due to have a cap number of $625,075 in the third year of his four-year rookie contract.

The Lions have indicated they would like to bring back kicker Matt Prater and long-snapper Don Muhlbach, essentially keeping their entire special-teams operation intact from the end of last season, but those deals haven't been finalized yet.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
The Detroit Lions are adding to their defensive line two weeks before the franchise might lose a significant part of it.

Colleague Adam Caplan is reporting the Lions are expected to sign defensive end/outside linebacker Phillip Hunt.

The 6-foot, 248-pound Hunt last played in the NFL in 2012 for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was on injured reserve for the Eagles in 2013 and was cut by the Indianapolis Colts following training camp last season. In 22 NFL games, the 29-year-old Hunt has 15 tackles and three sacks.

Hunt had his most productive years with Winnipeg in the CFL, where he had 64 tackles and 19 sacks over two seasons. In 2010, he led the CFL with 16 sacks and had at least one sack in 10 straight games at one point with the Blue Bombers.

It is likely Hunt would be an edge rusher for the Lions, who have restricted free agent George Johnson and unrestricted free agent Darryl Tapp as their two defensive end free agents. Considering his height/weight listing, Hunt could be a player competing for or taking Tapp's spot on the roster should Tapp return to the Lions.
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There are two things the Detroit Lions desperately need as the franchise tries to win its first playoff game in more than 20 years: Defensive linemen and offensive linemen.

Though it is somewhat likely the Lions will go with one of those positions in the first round of this spring's NFL draft in Chicago, where they go has varied.

In his latest mock draft, Todd McShay has looked squarely at the offensive line Insider and taken the most versatile lineman out there: Florida State's Cameron Erving.

Erving would make perfect sense for Detroit because of how he plays. He's someone who will grade out as one of the best centers in the draft should the Lions -- or any team -- choose to use him there. Prior to this season, though, he was an offensive tackle for the Seminoles and did well enough there to start on a national championship team. His size, at 6-foot-5, 313 pounds, could move him to any position on the line if need be, including guard if the Lions feel comfortable with their tackle and center situations.

"When I made the switch, a lot of people asked me how I felt about it in terms of the NFL. That wasn’t on my mind," Erving said of the position switch last week at the NFL combine. "I mean, I’ve always been the type of person that does what’s best for the team. When I moved from defense (after freshman season) that was what was best for the team. And that’s how I did.

"As far as moving from tackle to center, it’s what the team needed at the time. So I did it."

Erving started his career as a defensive tackle at Florida State before moving over to offensive tackle in 2012. The other potential option here is if the Lions were to draft Erving -- or another tackle -- in the first round, this could potentially help the franchise move current left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

General manager Martin Mayhew is all about versatility -- especially in this draft -- and Erving would present the most versatile player possible on the offensive line in the Class of 2015.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether he will be back with the club in 2015. Previous free agents profiled are here.

Free agent to be: Darryl Tapp

Position: Defensive end

Age: 30

Years in the league: 9

Tapp
What he made last season: Tapp signed a one-year deal last season, was cut at the end of camp and re-signed a few days later. He had a $570,000 cap charge and made $855,000 in base salary and cash last season.

What he did last season: He played in every game for the Lions as a rotational defensive end -- and sometimes in the defensive tackle rotation, too. He finished with 17 tackles and a half-sack, mostly as a space-eating run stopper. He’s an easy locker room presence and position group spokesman.

His potential market value: Not too high. Tapp is a player who is not going to give you great explosion or many major plays, but he is a high-character guy who can fit in a defensive line rotation playing inside or outside. He played one season as a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid in Washington in the 3-4, so he offers that versatility.

Will he fit the Lions: Sure, as long as he is willing to come cheap. He’s a player who understands his role within a defense, gets along with everybody, and fits in Teryl Austin’s scheme. That he has experience at multiple positions will also help. But mostly, he is a cheap option on the defensive line.

What happens: He likely won’t be an immediate signing considering other needs Detroit has, but it would be surprising if the Lions parted ways with him. They know what they would get in Tapp, and unless he didn’t want to return -- in other words, he gets a better offer -- he fits in well with the Lions and it would make sense to have him come back.
While the Detroit Lions still have a ton of free-agent moves to make -- the biggest surrounding defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- the team still has a decent amount of its salary cap tied into the defense.

Free agency or a new Suh deal will change that, but here are where things stand this morning according to ESPN Stats & Information. And remember, once the Top 51 rule starts again, some of the lower-end salaries will no longer count against the cap. Check out the dead money, too. It is pretty damning for the defense. Here is the offensive cap outlook from Wednesday.

Defensive ends: Ezekiel Ansah -- $5,071,228; Jason Jones -- $3,983,333; Devin Taylor -- $660,146; Larry Webster -- $585,146; Kerry Hyder -- $435,000; Roy Philon -- $435,000.

Defensive tackle: Jermelle Cudjo -- $660,000; Caraun Reid -- $557,220.

Linebacker: Stephen Tulloch -- $5,800,000; DeAndre Levy --$4,500,000; Kyle Van Noy -- $1,159,569; Tahir Whitehead -- $713,000; Travis Lewis -- $674,793; Julian Stanford -- $660,000; Jerrell Harris -- $435,000.

Cornerback: Darius Slay -- $1,442,537; Bill Bentley -- $817,278; Crezdon Butler -- $585,000; Nevin Lawson -- $510,146; Mohammed Seisay -- $510,000.

Safety: Glover Quin -- $5,742,500; James Ihedigbo -- $1,975,000; Don Carey -- $995,000; Nate Ness -- $585,000.

Dead money: Ndamukong Suh -- $9,737,500; Chris Houston -- $3,900,000; Jonte Green -- $24,250; Jerome Couplin -- $4,000; Mohammed Seisay -- $3,334; Justin Jackson -- $1,667; Gabe Lynn -- $1,334.

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
This seemed inevitable for months now, from the moment Reggie Bush injured his ankle during the fifth week of the season and Theo Riddick darted through the Minnesota defense on the opening drive the following week.

Riddick
Even when the Lions drafted Riddick in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, his skills were similar enough to Bush's -- then the Lions' top offseason free-agent acquisition -- that it seemed like the team signed its present and drafted its future, all in the same two-month span.

It turns out that's exactly what happened, as the Lions cut Bush on Wednesday after two years with the team and with two years left on his four-year contract.

But Bush's fate with the Lions was sealed as much by his inability to stay on the field -- he played 11 games in 2014 and has had only two seasons in which he played all 16 games -- as it was Riddick's emergence in the backfield.

The questions continued to come throughout the season, especially as Riddick played well in Bush's absence. Bush still had the occasional explosiveness. Riddick was the more consistent presence as a receiving back, which essentially became the role for Bush and Riddick in the Detroit offense.

Riddick, who has only 29 career carries and no rush longer than 9 yards, will never be mistaken for a between-the-tackles back, but neither was Bush. When it comes to receiving, though, Riddick had the superior season, even with fewer repetitions. Riddick had 34 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns, many of those plays coming in big spots.

He had the game-winning touchdown against Miami. He had a massive one-handed catch on the final drive against Atlanta, as well as a touchdown reception. Not coincidentally, Riddick had his most receptions (eight) and targets (12) against Atlanta, a game in which Bush was sidelined.

Riddick was productive when he played but was often behind Bush when he was healthy -- relegating Riddick to becoming the two-minute back because of his work out of the backfield.

Now his role could greatly expand in 2015, or at least he'll be the first player to have a shot at taking the snaps vacated by Bush's release.

"It depends on what we want to do, but he's capable of carrying it more than what we gave it to him," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last week. "But he’s also, you can also see his numbers of out of the backfield, catching the ball. Things of that nature, they jump out at you.

"So he's got a unique skill there, but he's also a good ball carrier, so we'll see how that goes."

Lions release RB Reggie Bush

February, 25, 2015
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Reggie Bush is no longer a member of the Detroit Lions.

The Lions announced the release of the 29-year-old running back Wednesday afternoon, less than two weeks before the start of free agency. The move was initially reported by ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.

Bush signed a four-year deal with the Lions in 2013 and was a 1,000-yard rusher for Detroit in his first season with the club. Bush couldn't stay healthy in 2014, though, dealing with a lingering ankle injury that started in Week 5 against Buffalo and never completely healed.

He played in 11 games last season with only 76 carries for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 40 receptions for 253 yards. Bush continually tried to come back throughout the season but kept getting reinjured.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Bush played hurt during the team's playoff game against Dallas, when he had eight carries for 37 yards and a touchdown along with three catches for 10 yards.

"He's a warrior," Mayhew said. "That Dallas game, he was hurt. But he went out and played his butt off in that Dallas game, the playoff game. I thought he gave everything he had, and I have great respect for guys who are able to do that.

"Some guys get nicked up and they can't play. That's just the reality. I know that about some players, that this guy's not quite right and we're probably not going to see him this weekend. We probably know that on Monday or Tuesday. Well, Reggie fought through some things throughout the entire season and was able to get on the field and compete, and that means a lot to me and I think the locker room respects him."

The move saves the Lions $1.7 million in cap room for 2015, which is sorely needed if the team is going to try to keep defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh


(Read full post)


The Detroit Lions are bringing Jeremy Ross back next season since he is an exclusive rights free agent. He should, though, have some competition for his job as a returner.

With the Baltimore Ravens releasing Jacoby Jones on Wednesday, the veteran could be someone to bring into camp to compete with Ross.

Jones
Detroit would know what it would be getting with Jones, too, if it were to bring him in. The Lions – at least some of their staff – have familiarity with Jones. He played under Jim Caldwell when Caldwell was the offensive coordinator in Baltimore. He also was the punt returner for Houston during some of new special teams coordinator Joe Marciano’s time with the Texans.

And in the NFL, if a player is good enough, familiarity breeds interest because the player you know is sometimes better than the player you don’t.

Before you say Jones is definitively better than Ross, consider: Ross was rated better by Pro Football Focus last season as a returner. That’s just one metric, though. Jones had a better kick return average than Ross (Jones 30.56; Ross 25.39) and a better punt return average (Jones 9.17; Ross 8.88).

Neither was a particularly good receivers last season, although Ross was a better option. Jones had nine receptions for 131 yards and no touchdowns on 19 targets from Joe Flacco. He dropped four of those targets for a a 21.1 percent drop rate. Ross had 24 receptions on 35 targets for 314 yards and a touchdown. He had two drops for a drop rate of 5.7 percent.

Ross is also younger and theoretically entering the prime of his career, turning 27 next month. Jones turns 31 in July, likely placing him on the other side of his prime.

So it could come down to both interest and money for the Lions pursuing Jones. He probably isn’t worth anything more than a veteran minimum contract – or slightly above it -- to Detroit, but if he is willing to take that, he could be worth bringing into camp to compete with Ross for the return slot and a backup receiver role.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether he will be back with the club in 2015. Previous free agents profiled are here.

Free agent to be: Andre Fluellen

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 29

Years in the league: 7

Fluellen
What he made last season: Signing at midseason, Fluellen cost $268,235 against the cap and made $343,529 in base salary according to ESPN Stats & Information. His initial base salary was $730,000 before proration.

What he did last season: He had one of the best seasons of his career in 2014. He had 10 tackles in eight games -- his most in a season since 2011 -- and recorded a career-high two sacks. He was primarily a rotation tackle behind Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley, and also played some defensive end in sub packages.

His potential market value: Low. He is still a low-end defensive tackle who won’t have much more than veteran minimum interest from teams other than Detroit, if that. In his entire career, he has only been somewhere other than Detroit once -- for two games in 2012 with Miami.

Will he fit the Lions: Sure. He’s a 4-3 tackle with some versatility. The Lions like that and have always liked him. He’s a player who has shown time and again that he will come to the franchise in shape and ready to go whenever that is -- be it from the start of the season or midway through the year like last season. With the Lions needing to spend more money elsewhere, he is a cheap, safe option.

What happens: The Lions love Fluellen, who was initially drafted in 2008 by the club. He has been re-signed by the team eight times since and will likely add No. 9 at some point during this offseason prior to training camp. He’s a high-character guy who is good in the locker room and provides versatility at end or tackle for what will be the league minimum.

All eyes remain on Ndamukong Suh

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein discusses where the team is with impending free agent Ndamukong Suh.
With the Detroit Lions still sorting through potential options with Ndamukong Suh and 19 players facing unrestricted free agency, Detroit has a good amount of money tied up in offense with its 2015 salary cap.

That'll change as free agency begins, but here's a quick look at the offensive cap numbers so far, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

Quarterback: Matthew Stafford -- $17,721,250.

Running back: Reggie Bush -- $5,277,941; Joique Bell -- $3,500,000; Theo Riddick -- $607,750; Emil Igwenagu -- $585,000; George Winn -- $510,000.

Wide receiver: Calvin Johnson -- $20,558,000; Golden Tate -- $5,350,000; Ryan Broyles -- $1,170,432; TJ Jones -- $536,550; Skye Dawson -- $510,000; Corey Fuller -- $510,000; Andrew Peacock -- $435,000.

Tight end: Brandon Pettigrew -- $3,800,000; Eric Ebron -- $2,783,897; Joseph Fauria -- $589,168.

Offensive tackle: Riley Reiff -- $2,543,450; LaAdrian Waddle - $588,334; Cornelius Lucas -- $516,667; Michael Williams -- $437,500.

Interior linemen: Larry Warford -- $849,250; Travis Swanson -- $699,868; Rodney Austin -- $585,000; Taylor Boggs -- $585,000; Darren Keyton -- $435,000; Braxston Cave -- $435,000.

Dead money: Michael Williams -- $32,574; Chad Abram -- $5,000; Jacob Maxwell -- $2,000; D.J. Morrell -- $1,668; Andrew Peacock -- $1,666; A.J. Dalton -- $1,666; James Franklin -- $1,334; Alex Bullard -- $334.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:

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