A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.
To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp, which is only a mere six or so months away.
Today starts the series with, what else, quarterbacks.
2014 free agents: Shaun Hill.
The good: Matthew Stafford is still 25 years old and turns 26 on Feb. 7. He still possesses all the same skills and attributes that had the Lions both drafting him with the No. 1 pick in 2009 and then deciding to give him a long-term extension before last season. And he looked like he was about to take a drastic step toward elite during the first half of the 2013 season, culminating in a last-minute drive against Dallas in Week 8. He now has a head coach who specifies in working with quarterbacks in Jim Caldwell. This is the first time Stafford has undergone such a drastic coaching change in his career, so it is possible this will awaken something in him to take the necessary improvements he needs to become elite. From many accounts, he already feels comfortable with Caldwell and Caldwell has a specific plan for working on the things Stafford has struggled with.
The bad: Stafford’s second half of the season was brutal. He threw as many touchdowns as interceptions and consistently made poor reads and forced throws. He was not helped by his pass catchers, who led the league in drops, but many of the mistakes were on Stafford. He clearly regressed during the second half of the season and finished with his lowest completion percentage (58.5 percent) since his rookie season. He also had the most interceptions, 19, since his rookie year. His fourth quarter was his worst quarter. He completed just 54.5 percent of his passes in the final quarters of games and had his lowest passer rating of any quarter in the fourth. It didn’t help, either, that he had just a 54.9 completion percentage to Calvin Johnson, his top receiver, and a 45.2 completion percentage to his No. 2 receiver most of the season, Kris Durham.
The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Stafford is scheduled to have a cap number of $15,820,000 -- 27.25 percent of the Lions' salary cap. Kellen Moore, the other quarterback on the roster, is scheduled to make $576,668, which is .99 percent of the Lions’ cap. Stafford is Detroit's second-highest cap player next season behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but he isn’t going anywhere and it would be pretty surprising if that cap number dropped at all. Stafford’s base salary for 2014, $2 million, is fully guaranteed. The big money question here is what Detroit decides to do behind Stafford. If the new staff trusts Moore enough to be the backup, then they might be set. But Moore has yet to take a snap in the NFL and always appeared to be former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s project. Hill is a free agent and has said under the right circumstances he would like to return. Anyone Detroit brings in will have to accept being Stafford’s backup, but the Lions should still seek to sign an experienced backup.
What Caldwell might favor: This position has little flexibility for him. He’s married to Stafford for the time being and he knew that going into the job. The question becomes whether he wants to bring in an experienced arm and a rookie or go with just an experienced arm or just a rookie. Or Moore.
Potential cuts: Depending what happens with free agency and the draft, as well as Moore’s development, will be the factor here. If the staff feels Moore is a quarterback who could play, he’ll stay. If not, he is a potential cut, especially since he is due to be a restricted free agent following the 2014 season.
Draft priority: Not high, but if the Lions see someone worth taking a late-round chance on, it could happen. There are a lot of quarterbacks expected to go high in the draft -- eight are listed in the Top 100 players -- but someone like Stephen Morris from Miami (Fla.) could be around late, or South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. Bryn Renner from North Carolina is also an intriguing prospect.
Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.