The Super Bowl is over. The NFL combine is a little over two weeks away and free agency commences in about a month.
And in that timeframe, a lot of decisions that will affect the Detroit Lions in 2016 (and beyond) will start to take shape. With that in mind, here are a few things to pay attention to between now and the beginning of the combine on Feb. 23.
1. Calvin Johnson: Until he officially announces his plans for the future, he will be the No. 1 question for the Lions. At this point, there are a lot of questions. While all signs have pointed toward retirement for the face of the Lions franchise, the window for a return remains open until he closes it. The next two weeks could be a good time for Lions general manager Bob Quinn and Johnson to figure out what is going to happen so both Johnson and the Lions can make plans for their futures, either together or apart.
2. Veteran cuts: This could end up being tied into what happens with Johnson because of the cap room his retirement would open up (at least $11.1 million). His retirement could mean the Lions might be more willing to stick with a potentially overpaid veteran or two who still brings some value to the franchise. Players to watch over the next few weeks will be linebacker Stephen Tulloch ($7.3 million cap hit in 2016, the final year of his deal); running back Joique Bell ($3.5 million cap hit in 2016, the final year of his deal) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew ($4.65 million cap hit in 2016, the second-to-last year of his deal).
3. Ezekiel Ansah’s option: It’s a no-brainer, but the Lions should just wrap that up now to avoid any sort of suspense or issue. Ansah is one of the top players from his draft class and is emerging as one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. Picking up the option gives Detroit the comfort of knowing it is done.
4. Darius Slay’s extension: Not sure this gets done that quickly, but Slay switched agents and signed with Drew Rosenhaus. A source has said the goal is to get an extension done for Slay, who has turned into one of the top young cornerbacks in the game. Slay has indicated he wants to stay in Detroit and he understands his value. Rosenhaus and Slay likely won’t want to set the market on a deal, but those conversations are likely to at least start to happen.
5. The focus on the draft: Most of the heavy lifting for where potential free agents will land (and who will get re-signed) often gets done at the combine or around it. But the Senior Bowl started to give the Lions an idea of who they might want to spend more time getting to know at the draft and interest may start to leak out as things get closer. The above issues could also dictate positional needs for Detroit in 2016 and the future, so the draft board can slowly start to come together (although it won’t be finalized for a long, long time).